Africa food supply outlook

Food supply outlook in Africa improves, but 17 countries face exceptional food emergencies


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The number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa facing exceptional food emergencies has climbed to 17 - up four from the 13 reported at the end of 1996 - according to a special FAO report released in early May. But the food supply outlook for the region as a whole has generally improved, as a result of good harvests in western Africa and favourable prospects in southern Africa.

The food situation is particularly grave in eastern Zaire, where Rwandan refugees are dying of starvation and disease in large numbers. "The planned large-scale repatriation of the estimated 80 000 refugees by relief agencies has run into serious difficulties due to cholera outbreaks, delays in securing necessary clearances and the looting of relief food supplies by the local populations," according to the quarterly report Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other troublespots in the Great Lakes Region include Burundi and Rwanda, where food production remains below pre-civil strife levels and one-third of the population needs food assistance.

In eastern Africa, poor harvests caused by drought, particularly in Eritrea and parts of Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda, have led to serious food supply difficulties. And in western Africa, despite a satisfactory food supply situation in most countries, thanks to average and above-average harvests gathered in late 1996, Liberia and Sierra Leone continue to rely mostly on food assistance to meet their needs. Localized food shortages are also reported in the Sahelian countries of Chad, Mauritania and the Niger.

A good 1996/97 cereal harvest is expected in southern Africa, where rains have been generally abundant and an earlier threat of red locust attack was effectively contained. But late starting rains in several areas and dry spells during the season may trim an otherwise bumper maize crop in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Estimated 1997 food aid needs of sub-Saharan Africa - still high at nearly 2 million tonnes - are lower than last year, reflecting the favourable harvests in western Africa and southern Africa's optimistic outlook. Although food aid pledges totalled 1.5 million tonnes by mid-April, less than 1 million tonnes had been delivered by the end of the month.

"The global food aid availability, which in recent years has been on a downward trend, is unlikely to improve in the coming years," warned Abdur Rashid, chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, which published the report. "Low-income food-deficit countries in the region will need to take urgent action to step up their food production if they are to safeguard the long-term food security of their populations."

The report calls for the international community to focus on four priority areas requiring assistance.

  1. All possible efforts should be made to alleviate the extreme suffering of Rwandan refugees in eastern Zaire.
  2. Adequate contingency planning is needed to avert a possible disaster in eastern Africa should the main rains currently in progress turn out to be insufficient for normal food production.
  3. Emergency assistance continues to be needed in Burundi, Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
  4. Donor support for FAO's Special Programme for Food Security is needed to allow the low-income food-deficit countries in sub-Saharan Africa to improve their food security by increasing and stabilizing their food production.

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