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Press Release 99/23


Johannesburg, 21 April -- Though much of sub-Saharan Africa continues to see improved food and crop prospects, a Special UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Report released today, warns that war and civil strife remain a threat to food security in several countries of the sub-region. Adverse weather conditions are further aggravating the situation in some areas.

Perhaps hardest hit by civil strife is Angola, where the food outlook this year is "extremely bleak," according to the report, because of fighting between government forces and UNITA rebels, which resumed in December, just after the beginning of the current cropping season. It says, "Large-scale population displacement in rural areas is reported, with farm families abandoning their farms and homes to take refuge in government-held towns and cities or in neigbouring countries. Some reports say the Angolan country-side is being systematically depopulated."

According to FAO, food production in Angola in 1999 is expected to be sharply reduced and the country will need massive food assistance. But, it warns, distribution of relief assistance will have to be mainly by expensive air transport, because of widespread insecurity and land mines.

In Somalia, the report says six consecutive poor harvests caused by adverse weather and aggravated by civil strife and insecurity have led to starvation-related deaths and widespread severe malnutrition. Economic and commercial activities have been severely curtailed, particularly in the south, and large numbers of people are on the move in search of food and to escape the factional fighting.

The food situation will deteriorate further, says the report, following the reduced harvest of the secondary 1998/99 Deyr crop which is expected to be 25 percent below pre civil war averages. It adds, "Even though there was an increase in the area planted in response to high cereal prices, late and erratic rains resulted in sharply reduced yields. The poor rains have also caused water shortages for humans and livestock, particularly in the northwestern areas."

The UN agency estimates that "over one million people are desperately short of food, with more than 400,000 threatened by starvation," and it calls on the international community "to devise ways to reach the increasingly desperate population" even though relief distribution continues to be seriously hampered by insecurity. The FAO report adds, "There is also an urgent need for seeds for planting in the Gu season, which is just beginning."

In Sudan, in spite of a record cereal harvest in 1998, the food situation in the south remains precarious with some 2.36 million people in need of emergency food assistance due to the long-running civil conflict.

In Uganda, severe food shortages are reported in Kifamba sub-county of Rakai District following a succession of poor crops. In the northern districts of Gulu and Kitgum, affected by civil strife, the report says renewed fighting has resulted in a deterioration of the security conditions. International food assistance continues to be provided to some 400,000 displaced persons in these areas.

In the Great Lakes region, including Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, the report calls the food supply situation "precarious" saying efforts to increase food production are hamstrung by persistent insecurity, sporadic violence and bad weather."

"Prolonged dry spells in Burundi and Rwanda during the just-ended growing season reduced crop yields while insecurity in parts continues to disrupt food production activities," says the report.

Burundi has suffered from dry spells resulting in reduced production of cereals and pulses, though production of other food crops such as roots, tubers and bananas was satisfactory, the report says. But, it adds, "the security situation remains very unstable and continues to threaten food security in many areas. Food difficulties are particularly serious for some 550,000 people still living in regroupment camps, because of persisting insecurity and sporadic violence. Food aid, estimated a 50,000 tonnes, will be needed in 1999 for some 300,000 vulnerable people."

In both the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, the food supply situation is difficult, deteriorating sharply in the capitals of the two countries. The price of food has risen dramatically. A recent survey of families on the outskirts of Kinshasa found that 90 percent of daily household expenditures go to food. An outflow of food commodities from Kinshasa to Brazzaville has also reduced food availability.

Negative impacts of the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict have begun to show up in agricultural and trade activities. The food situation in border areas has become difficult, according to the report, particularly for some 100,000 internally displaced people who have fled from the conflict and 60,000 who have returned to Eritrea from Ethiopia abandoning their farms and possessions. Despite Ethiopia's bumper grain harvest in 1998, enough to have exportable surpluses, the food situation is serious for some 3 million vulnerable people, including pastoralists in areas affected by dry weather and those displaced by the conflict.

Continuing violence and widespread insecurity threaten the 1999 food outlook in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau. Freetown, Sierra Leone, is still suffering from severe food and fuel shortages, the report says. However, it notes that economic activities are picking up with the return of traders and the reopening of banks, but warns that because most staff of international humanitarian agencies have not yet returned to the country, some agricultural rehabilitation activities, including the distribution of seeds and tools will be very limited. Food production during the coming growing season which begins in April is projected to be seriously reduced. In neighboring Liberia, although the country is still suffering from food shortages, the report says a recovery of agricultural production and food supply is expected to continue in 1999 as a result of improved security conditions.

Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, the report says Tanzania's recently harvested secondary Vuli crop in northern and coastal areas was sharply reduced by late and below-normal precipitation during the rainy season. "Even though Vuli production accounts for only 17 percent of the national cereal production, its contribution to the annual food supplies of the households in the Vuli growing regions is very important," it says. The number of people in need of food assistance in Tanzania has risen to an estimated 1 million.

In central Mozambique, floods caused by torrential rains in late February affected several usually drought-prone regions causing some loss of life, crops and property. The report says an estimated 40,000 hectares of arable land were flooded and more than 70,000 people affected. However, overall harvest prospects are favorable.

In other areas of southern Africa, harvest prospects are generally favorable. According to the FAO report, "a recovery in production can be expected in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, while good harvests are in prospect in Madagascar, Malawi and Swaziland."

Overall, says the report, "indications are that the sub-region's 1999 cereal crop may exceed the 1998 production, which was estimated at 18.3 million tonnes, about 15 percent below average."

In western Africa, the food outlook for 1999 is generally favorable, particularly in the Sahelian countries following above-average to record harvests, says the report. Several countries have cereal surpluses available for donor purchases for transfer to deficit areas within the countries themselves, or for assistance to other countries in the sub-region.

The report estimates the aggregate 1998 cereal output for Burkina Faso, Chad, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and The Gambia "at a record 10.4 million tonnes which is 35 percent higher than in 1997 and 20 percent above the average of the last five years. "

The FAO report lists 17 sub-Saharan countries as facing exceptional food emergencies, that is an increase of four since December last year. The 17 countries facing exceptional food emergencies today, are: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.


For further information please contact:

John Riddle, Media Officer,
tel: (39) 06 57 05 32 59
Cell Phone (39) 0348 23 41 145 (drop the 0 when dialing from outside Italy)

Video is available from Rome showing FAO's emergency projects in Burundi including the country-wide seed distribution campaign in March 1999, aimed at refugees returning to Burundi, those still internally displaced, and those affected by drought.

For copies of Video Tape, please contact:
In Rome, Italy: Gillian Hazell (39) 06 5705 5980
Cell Phone: (39) 0347 358 4974 (drop the 0 when dialing from outside Italy)

The Special Report on Africa is available on the FAO web site, at then click on economics, GIEWS and then reports.


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