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Press Release 98/72

FAO'S SPECIAL REPORT ON SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: IMPROVED OUTLOOK FORECAST FOR MUCH OF SUB-REGION; BUT SOMALIA FACES SEVERE FOOD SHORTAGES AND CIVIL STRIFE THREATENS FOOD SUPPLIES IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO


Johannesburg, 21 December -- Sub-Saharan Africa can look forward to a generally improved food supply situation, according to a special UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report released today. The improvement reflects "substantial increases in food production in several areas, particularly western Africa where above average to record harvests are anticipated in several Sahelian countries, and in eastern Africa where the year's output is satisfactory in several countries. As a result, the sub-region's cereal import requirements are anticipated to be lower than last year."

However, the FAO report, FOOD SUPPLY SITUATION AND CROP PROSPECTS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, warns that food supply difficulties persist in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa and lists 13 countries in the region facing exceptional food emergencies caused in some cases by civil strife.

The report warns that a major food crisis is developing in Somalia, following five consecutive reduced harvests caused by drought, civil strife, the worst floods in decades, and pest infestations. Moreover, a one-year ban of livestock imports from Somalia by Saudi Arabia, a traditionally important market, on account of recent livestock disease outbreaks has adversely affected incomes and food security of large numbers of pastoralists and other livestock producers.

Cereal prices in Somalia are increasing, a reflection of short supplies, while prices of livestock continue to plummet. Cases of malnutrition are high and increasing, says the report, and large numbers of people are on the move in search of food and work. FAO says Somalia will need an estimated 125,000 tons of food aid during the 1998/99 marketing year, which runs from August to July.

"Recent estimates put the number of people facing food shortages at 700,000, and those most at risk at 300,000, mainly in Bay and Bakool regions," according to the report, which notes: "Sustained relief assistance is urgently needed for these populations." A recently launched UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal is seeking $18 million for funding emergency food, nutrition and health operations in southern and central Somalia.

In Sudan, the severe famine situation in the south has eased in recent months with improved food aid distribution since August and the beginning of the new harvest. The famine resulted in large numbers of people dying in the Northern Bahar El Ghazal State. A recent FAO Crop Assessment Mission to the 10 states of southern Sudan estimated the 1998 cereal harvest at 538,000 tons, substantially higher than the drought-reduced harvest of 1997. However, the report says, "the harvest is reduced for large numbers of households in areas where military activity during the growing season disrupted agricultural activities." However, for Sudan as a whole, a record harvest of 6.51 million tons of cereals is forecast, of which 75 percent will be sorghum.

While food difficulties persist in Somalia and to some extent in southern Sudan, the overall food outlook in eastern Africa is more favorable than in recent years. In Ethiopia, cereal and pulse production from the main meher season is forecast at 36 percent higher than last year but slightly less than the record crop of 1996.

In southern Africa, the report says the 1998/99 growing season has started under more favorable conditions than last year. Normal rains in September and October in cereal producing areas of several countries have provided adequate moisture for land preparation and early planting of the coarse grain crops to be harvested from April 1999.

"Despite a reduced 1998 aggregate cereal output," according to FAO, "the sub-region's food supply situation remains generally stable. Large maize carryover stocks in South Africa provide an exportable surplus, while a number of countries face substantial cereal deficits that will have to be met by imports. They include Lesotho, Namibia and Zambia, where cereal production in 1997/98 declined significantly. The sub-region's 1998 wheat crop, just harvested, is estimated to be below the 1997 level of 2.2 million tons and also below average. The fall is mainly due to a sharp decline in the area sown, particularly in South Africa, in response to low international and domestic wheat prices."

The 1998 irrigated wheat crop, just harvested in South Africa, is estimated at 1.47 million tons, 36 percent below last year's. In contrast, output is expected to be above average in Zambia at 71,000 tons and Zimbabwe where it should reach 250,000 tons.

In Angola, despite an improvement in production, the food supply situation is expected to tighten in the coming months with large areas in need of food aid, reflecting the volatile security situation.

The report says that because South Africa has large carryover stocks, "the sharp reduction in maize production in South Africa is unlikely to seriously limit the country's capacity to export maize to the deficit countries in the sub-region."

In western Africa, according to the report, "a bumper crop is anticipated in Sahel, with record harvests in the main producing countries of the region." In coastal countries along the Gulf of Guinea, harvest prospects are said to be generally favourable in Benin, Nigeria and Togo, but less favorable in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. Liberia and Sierra Leone remain heavily dependent on international food assistance, despite some improvement in food production. In Liberia, despite improved security and favourable weather conditions, the 1998 cereal output is only expected to be close to last year's because of a severe seed shortage.

FAO forecasts record crops in Chad, Mali and Niger, with above-average output in The Gambia and about average in Burkina Faso and Senegal. The report foresees below average output in Cape Verde and Mauritania.

In the Great Lakes region, food production is said to have recovered significantly, except in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the former Zaire. Civil strife continues to hamper farming activities there and large-scale population movements both within the country and to neighbouring countries have been reported. Prices of basic foodstuffs in local markets are on the rise, as supplies become increasingly scarce. In Burundi, food production and supply have recovered significantly, while in Rwanda, the overall food supply situation has improved with increased production this year. However, the report notes that these improvements have not been seen in the northwestern prefectures where persistent insecurity continues to disrupt agricultural activities and is displacing increasing numbers of the local population.

The FAO report has a special feature on Transboundary Animal Disease Changes in Eastern Africa, which examines recent outbreaks of animal diseases, concluding that the root cause of some of these problems are poorly structured and poorly funded national veterinary services. In Tanzania, it calls for innovative approaches to disease management and control and says an enabling legislative environment must be created in the countries of eastern Africa and the necessary training given to permit wider use of community animal health workers. "There is an urgent need for more resources to the veterinary service, as well as restructuring it so as to allow for rapid and direct reporting of diseases from village to headquarters, as well as rapid and firm response to outbreaks."

The 13 countries facing exceptional food emergencies are: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Zambia. Last year at this time 20 countries in sub-Saharan African were listed in this category by FAO.

* * * * * *

FOOD SUPPLY SITUATION AND CROP PROSPECTS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA is available on the FAO website at: http://fao.org/giews

For further information contact:

Mr. Seatla Nkosi
tel: 27 12 338 5329

or FAO Information Officer John Riddle at:

Telephone: 39 06 57 05 32 59
Fax: 39 06 57 05 36 99
e-mail: john.riddle@fao.org


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