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Press Release 99/42 Joint FAO/WFP

MORE THAN 1 MILLION PEOPLE IN AFGHANISTAN NEED FOOD ASSISTANCE, UN AGENCIES SAY


Rome, 9 July -- More than 1 million people in Afghanistan will need relief and rehabilitation assistance over the next 18 months because of a sharp reduction in cereal production this year, according to a report released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The report, based on a recent FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Afghanistan, says total cereal production will fall some 16 percent this year to 3.24 million tonnes. The drop is due to bad climatic conditions, increased pest infestations and a trend among farmers to turn their wheat fields over to the cultivation of more lucrative cash crops.

Cereal import requirements for the next 12 months are estimated at a record 1.1 million tonnes, of which more than 95 percent is wheat. But with commercial cereal imports reaching just 800,000 tonnes, Afghanistan faces a food shortfall of 323,000 tonnes.

Although WFP has procured 97,000 tonnes of emergency food aid, the remaining deficit will have serious implications for the poorest and most vulnerable people in a population that is heavily dependent on food aid because of high levels of poverty and unemployment, FAO and WFP warned.

"The purchasing power of a majority of Afghans remains extremely limited due to lack of income-earning opportunities outside agriculture and the largely subsistence nature of the agriculture itself," the report says.

The report notes that a large number of internally displaced people in Afghanistan have only casual employment, and that in an economy which is creating very few new jobs.

Afghanistan's cereal production was sharply reduced this year by a shortage of irrigation water. The country's mildest winter in 40 years produced little snow, which is the main source of irrigation water when it melts. Late and erratic spring rains, and a high incidence of yellow rust and sunnpest in some regions, also contributed to the fall in cereal production.

Food deficits in Afghanistan have been exacerbated by a trend among farmers to turn their wheat fields over to the cultivation of such cash crops as onions, potatoes, poppies and tree crops like almonds and apricots.

According to the report, the country's farmers are hampered by the unstable security situation and the difficult access to many areas, due to the poor infrastructure network. Sending produce to markets may require complex transhipments in-country and even, in many cases, the use of animal transport. And in winter, the harsh weather conditions climate can impede or block access to some regions, such as the Central Highlands.

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For further information, please call FAO media relations branch (tel.: 0039.06.57053276) or WFP press office (tel.: 0039.06.65132253). Please note that the report on Afghanistan is available on internet at: http://www.wfp.org or http://www.fao.org


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