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Press Release 98/35






Tallinn, 27 May -- The food situation in most of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is gradually improving and food aid needs have fallen sharply, according to a statement by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released at its Regional Conference for Europe in Tallinn.

However, FAO said, all CIS countries continue to have vulnerable groups including pensioners, disabled people, refugees, single-parent or large families who cannot afford to buy enough food. "Affordability rather than physical supply of food remains the main problem, " the statement said.

The CIS is made up of most of the countries that were once part of the former USSR. Seven countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) with a population of 53 million people are classified now as low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDC). They have a per caput annual gross national product of less than $1 465, this is just $28 per week and the disposable income is significantly less, FAO said.

Ministers and senior government officials from around 40 countries of the European region are discussing food security and agricultural issues during this five-day meeting (25-29 May) in Tallinn.

Although overall food supplies in the CIS are adequate to meet demand there are large differences between and within countries. In Tajikistan, FAO said, 16 percent of the population still need assistance to survive. At the same time, countries such as Kyrghyzstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine have exportable grain surpluses in 1997/98.

Within countries, "a small but growing proportion of the population can afford a highly varied diet, but the majority, in both urban and rural areas, still has to spend a large portion of meagre income on staple food." While cities are increasingly well supplied with often imported food, availability in rural areas or depressed regional industrial towns has deteriorated enormously, with prices often beyond the purchasing power of the people, FAO said.

Throughout the CIS grain production stabilized in 1996 and increased sharply in 1997, reaching 156 million tons. FAO tentatively forecasts the output of wheat in the CIS to decline by up to five million tons to about 76 million tons in 1998, mainly reflecting declines in both the Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Output of coarse grains is expected to fall by five million to 65 million tons. Output in the livestock industry has continued to decline in most CIS countries although production decline in the poultry sector now bottoming out. Consumption of poultry meat is growing in some countries.

In other Eastern European countries, prospects for 1998 cereal crops are mixed. In Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, three of the largest producers, smaller crops are expected reflecting adverse planting and growing conditions in some areas, but also farmers' limited ability to buy inputs and to maintain machinery in working order.

FAO warned that if tensions and outbreaks of violence continue in Kosovo, food production could be further reduced. Wheat and maize production in Kosovo has roughly halved since 1991, FAO said.




Related link: FAO Regional Conference for Europe.


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©FAO, 1998