PR 96/18


Nairobi, 29 May -- A UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, released in Nairobi today, calls Sub-Saharan Africa's food security outlook "precarious" as global cereal supplies tighten and food aid availabilities shrink. Sharp increases in cereal prices on the world market and consequent higher cost cereal imports, coupled with balance of payments difficulties in food deficit African countries, will mean that a large proportion of food imports of the region will need to be covered by food aid.

Yet, FAO is forecasting global food aid availability in 1995/96 at 7.6 million tons, the third consecutive annual decline and the lowest level in 20 years.

According to the report, "There are no signs of an imminent improvement in the food supply situation in the current year in sub- Saharan Africa as a whole. There are currently about 22 million people in the region facing food emergencies of varying intensity."

The report says a combination of unfavourable factors threaten sub-Saharan Africa's progress towards food security, including a 9.5 million ton drop in aggregate cereal production compared to the 1994 level and international cereal prices that have risen by more than 50 percent over the past year. Reflecting this sharp rise in prices, the cereal import bill for the low-income food-deficit countries of Africa in 1995/96 is forecast to increase by about $1.4 billion above last year's cost. Mr. Abdur Rashid, head of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, which published the report, said, "Africa's precarious food security could lead to a genuine human tragedy." Already 210 million people in Africa suffer from hunger and undernutrition; that's forty percent of that continent's population. The World Food Summit, which will convene from 13-17 November this year at FAO Headquarters, will be seeking ways to head off this tragedy by finding ways to end such food shortages and guarantee the most basic of human rights: the right to adequate food for all at all times.

"Water has a crucial role to play in African food security," according to Mr. Rashid. "That's why we added a special feature on the crucial need for increased irrigation to improve food production in sub- Saharan Africa."

Calling the need for significant expansion of irrigation in sub- Saharan Africa "very urgent," the Special Feature says, "Compelling reasons include the overwhelming reliance on highly variable, erratic rainfall, frequent severe droughts, rising population pressure accompanied by delining farm size, falling soil productivity and land degradation, and the existence of substantial, untapped irrigation potential." Noting "some positive signs," the report says: "The food supply situation is generally satisfactory in western Africa, following good harvests in most Sahelian and coastal countries. Ethiopia, one of the major recipients of international food aid over the last decade, will require smaller quantities of food aid imports in 1996."

Angola, Mozambique and Rwanda are gradually beginning to reap the dividends of peace and a recent peace agreement in Sierra Leone offers the hope of partial recovery of food production and marking in 1996, the report said.

In southern Africa, the report says, "Initial indications are that the sub-region's output may be above average and well up on last year's drought-reduced level, on account of an increase in area planted and expected above-average yields." South Africa and Zimbabwe may even become self-sufficient in maize once again, possibly generating significant surpluses, according to the report.

In Monrovia, Liberia, the report warns, "The volatile security situation could undermine agricultural production 1996 and hamper relief operations, which are generally coordinated from Monrovia."

In Burundi, the report says, continuing insecurity in some provinces and unfavourable weather conditions have reduced 1996 season A food production by 15 percent below normal.

The report estimates aggregate cereal production in the Horn in 1995/96 at 5 percent below the previous year's harvest. "Reduced crops in Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan more than offset the significant gain in production in Ethiopia. Production also declined in Kenya, but remained above average. Large numbers of vulnerable people and those affected by localized crop failures require continued food assistance throughout 1996," according to the report.

"There are an estimated 9 million people currently facing severe food shortages in eastern Africa, including some 7 million in the Horn of Africa."