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Press Release 99/07


Paris, March 2 - The continued impact of severe weather phenomena and turmoil in the world's financial markets threatens to make the food supply situation difficult for many countries, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a special Food Update released today at the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris.

"Extensive crop damage from the El Niño and La Niña phenomena has reduced rice production levels in Bangladesh, China,Indonesia and the Philippines," said the Update. In Indonesia, the situation was worsened by "economic problems which left a large number of people unemployed and vulnerable to food shortages."

China's winter grains were affected by drought last autumn. Favorable weather in India is expected to result in a good wheat harvest. Rice production is expected to recover somewhat in Indonesia, following severely reduced output caused by the combination of El Niño, La Niña and the Asian financial crisis, according to the Update.

"Asia will likely be one of the main recipients of food aid in 1999, reflecting the difficult food situation in Indonesia and North Korea. Food aid shipments to all of Asia could total as much as 5 million tons in 1999," the Update estimated.

"One of the important lessons of 1998 is that macroeconomic shocks can be just as damaging to food security as natural disasters," said Abdur Rashid, head of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.

"Food security in Afghanistan and North Korea remains fragile mainly because the lack of essential inputs has severely constrained domestic production," the Update said. Food production in North Korea is well below minimum consumption needs because of chronic input shortages. The country has little capacity to import food and inputs commercially and remains highly dependent on external assistance.

In Iraq, despite some improvement in the overall food position following the implementation of the Oil-for-Food deal, malnutrition still remains a serious problem, the Update said.

Central America and the Caribbean are facing reduced levels of cereal output for 1998/99 because of El Niño related weather disturbances. According to the Update: "Maize and bean losses are widespread in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico following devastation from hurricane Mitch. In Cuba and the Dominican Republic heavy rain and flooding following hurricane Georges seriously damaged paddy products.

"The Update said that 15 countries are facing unfavorable prospects for their current crops, while a total of 38 countries face shortfalls in food supplies in the current marketing year that will require exceptional, or emergency food assistance.

According to the Update, the early outlook for 1999 winter wheat and rye in both the Ukraine and Russia is mixed with the aggregate area sown in both countries declining marginally. Most crops were planted late, or under dry conditions.

The Update said: "Reports indicate that crops are in satisfactory condition on 85 percent of the area planted in the Ukraine,but are poor on more than 2 million hectares of the 13 million planted in Russia. It estimates the aggregate 1998 cereal and pulse harvest in the Commonwealth of Independent States at 111 million tons, nearly 30 percent less than last year's output of 157 million tons.

Calling weather conditions for Europe's winter grain crops "generally satisfactory so far," the Update says, "The output of winter wheat is expected to fall in 1999, due to a combination of reduced planting and adverse autumn weather in several countries. Although the area under winter coarse grains is also estimated to have fallen, overall production will depend largely on the level of spring planting. In the Baltics, conditions for winter grains have been mostly favorable, though some crop damage is likely in Latvia."

"Prospects for the 1999 winter wheat crop in the United States are satisfactory, although the area planted is estimated to have fallen by 7 percent from the already reduced area in 1998. Weather conditions in North America have been generally favorable so far. In Canada,the area planted to wheat in May/June is expected to be reduced further due to poor price prospects," according to the Update.

The 1998/99 wheat crop has been harvested in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile. Production was below average and almost 5 million tons lower than in 1997, due to reduced planting and adverse weather, says the Update. In Bolivia and Ecuador, harvesting of the 1999 first season crop is just beginning, while in Peru, harvesting is due to start from April. In Brazil, maize is being harvested in some areas and production is expected to recover from the effects of last year's El Niño. In the Andean countries, harvesting of first season coarse grain crops is about to begin, while in Colombia and Venezuela, planting of the 1999/00 first season crop will begin in April.

In Africa, the Update warns of mounting concern about the deteriorating food situation in Somalia. A poor Deyr season crop is forecast and this follows five consecutive poor harvests. It would be the sixth in succession. The number of people searching for food and water is on the increase. In many areas, renewed fighting has aggravated an already precarious situation. Elsewhere in Eastern Africa, the Update says a severely reduced Vuli crop in Tanzania has increased the number of vulnerable people, while in eastern parts of Kenya food shortages are reported despite a satisfactory situation nationally.

The outlook is generally favorable for 1998/99 crops in southern Africa, reflecting favorable rainfall in recent months. If the favorable conditions continue, the Update forecasts a recovery in production in several countries, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, with harvest prospects generally favorable elsewhere. However, according to the Update, the food supply situation is anticipated to deteriorate in Angola where a resumption of civil strife is hampering food production activities.

A record crop has been gathered in the Sahel in 1998, but production has decreased in Guinea Bissau because of civil disturbances. Production remains well below average in Sierra Leone due to insecurity and armed conflict, while in both the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, civil strife is constraining agriculture activities.

Across northern Africa, Algeria and Morocco face uncertain prospects for 1999 wheat and barley following delayed rains which affected planting. Recent rains improved crop conditions but soil moisture is low and rain is still needed, the Update says. In Tunisia, prospects for winter grains are favorable following above-normal rains since the beginning of the season. Irrigated wheat in Egypt is forecast to be satisfactory.

Australia faces good prospects for its small summer coarse grains crop for harvesting in 1999. This follows another above average cereal crop that was harvested in 1998, the Update said.

The Food Update said the 15 countries facing unfavorable prospects for current crops are: Angola, Antigua/Barbuda, Chile, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jordan, Nicaragua, Philippines, St. Kitts & Nevis and Tanzania.

The 38 countries requiring exceptional and, or emergency assistance because of shortfalls in food supplies in the current marketing year are listed as: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia,Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iraq, Nicaragua, North Korea, Laos, Liberia, Mongolia, Russia, Rwanda, St. Kitts Nevis, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda,Yugoslavia, and Zambia.

For further information, please contact:

At Salon de l'Agriculture

Mr. Gilles Hirzel/Ms. Lilliane Kambirigi
Tel.: (Cellular) 00 33 6 80 75 45 43

In Rome

Pierre Antonios
Tel.: (39) 06 57 05 34 73
Fax: (39) 06 57 05 36 99

For additional information on the world food situation, visit the FAO homepage at:

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©FAO, 1999