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Press Release 98/24




Rome, 26 March -- The threat that El Niño would cause drought in Southern Africa appears to be receding, but cereal production for 1997-98 probably will be down at least 8 percent from the previous year, UN food agencies said today.

In a mid-season review of the crop production and food supply situation in the countries of Southern Africa, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) expressed "guarded optimism about the likely outcome of the season".

"Assuming normal weather conditions prevail for the remainder of the season, the sub-region's aggregate cereal production is forecast at 19.8 million metric tons," the special report said.

"This would represent a drop in output of about 8 percent compared to the relatively good 1997 harvest, largely on account of reduced planting in many countries as a result of the drought warning and irregular rains."

In addition, swarms of African Migratory Locusts threaten the crops in Madagascar. The report said losses could range from 10 to 30 percent of the 1997 harvest.

The report estimated that the countries of southern Africa would need to import a total of 4.7 million tonnes of cereals during the 1998-99 marketing year. It said the need for food aid could also rise, especially in Lesotho.

Fearing that the current El Niño manifestation would cause severe drought in Southern Africa, governments had encouraged early plantings of drought resistant crops and water conservation measures and had distributed seed packs and other inputs. FAO intensified its monitoring of the crop situation, and WFP prepared a contingency plan in cooperation with the intergovernmental Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

While the El Nino weather phenomenon has been blamed for exceptionally heavy rains in Eastern Africa, its effect has been minor so far in Southern Africa.

After hot, dry weather during the first ten days of February in Lesotho, southern Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa, most of Southern Africa has had sufficient rain and lower temperatures.

For further information please contact:

Erwin Northoff
FAO Media Officer
Tel. +39-6 5705-3105


Francis Mwanza
WFP Information Officer, Rome
Tel. +39-6 6513-2623

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