PR 96/38 - SPECIAL AFRICA REPORT


PR 96/38

FAO REPORT FINDS 13 AFRICAN NATIONS FACING EXCEPTIONAL FOOD EMERGENCIES DESPITE IMPROVED CROP AND FOOD SUPPLY CONDITIONS IN MOST AREAS OF THE CONTINENT

London, 10 October -- Thirteen African countries are suffering from continued food shortages and emergencies, despite a generally improved crop and food supply situation in much of sub-Saharan Africa, according to a report released in London today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The quarterly Special Report on the Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa says Burundi, Liberia, and Somalia have been hardest-hit. Its release comes just weeks ahead of a World Food Summit at FAO Headquarters in Rome, November 13-17, 1996.

"Pockets of famine have developed in several parts of Liberia following a sharp reduction in food production and a serious disruption of relief distributions," the report says. Severe malnutrition and deaths from starvation-related causes are reported in several regions where food assistance was interrupted for prolonged periods because of civil strife.

The report cites civil strife, displacement of rural population and economic sanctions as the main causes threatening food supplies in Burundi. Food prices have risen sharply since late July and the report says the situation is likely to deteriorate in the coming months due to limits on cereal imports. Elsewhere in central eastern Africa, despite a good overall cereal harvest, large numbers of people in Tanzania are reported in need of food aid following localised crop failures.

In parts of Somalia and Sudan, the report calls the food supply situation "precarious." In Somalia, the report blames continued volatility of the political and security situation, saying ¦renewed factional and clan-based fighting continues to disrupt economic and marketing activities. Sudan has seen sharply increased food prices in recent weeks in part because the 1996 cereal output in some areas was sharply reduced by bad weather and pest infestations. At the same time, deteriorating terms of trade between livestock and cereals have eroded their purchasing power, making food assistance urgently needed in these areas.

Other countries facing serious food emergencies are Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Zaire. The problems in many of them are caused by man-made or natural disasters. In Ethiopia, crop shortages affect only a few areas.

Mr. Abdur Rashid, chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, which published the report, warned, "Unless exceptional food assistance allocations are made, it is probable that a number of African countries will face increased hardship as many of their people will not be able to find enough food to eat. There is a pressing need for large scale national and international interventions to bring about a rapid improvement in the region's food security situation."

The report calls on the international community to focus on ¦four areas requiring assistance. First, all efforts should be made to ensure the speedy delivery of adequate relief assistance to people affected by severe food shortages in Liberia. Second, food assistance is needed to the affected population in Somalia and Sudan as well as in other parts of eastern and southern Africa. Third, continued emergency assistance is needed by the affected populations (refugees, internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups) in the Great Lakes region. Fourth, sustained donor assistance will be required for the rehabilitation of the agriculture sector in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and other countries where prospects of a lasting peace are becoming a reality following the devastation caused by prolonged civil strife."

Despite these continuing problem areas, the report says there has been some improvement in the outlook for food supplies in sub-Saharan Africa, following a recovery in production in southern Africa. The 1996 growing season is reported to be progressing well in the Sahelian countries, while overall prospects for crops growing in coastal countries of western Africa remain favourable at the time of printing. Early crop prospects in several parts of eastern Africa are also reportedly favourable.

Calling the food supply situation in southern Africa one of "marked improvement" the report says: "The sub-region's 1995/96 coarse grains crop harvested earlier in the year is estimated at 19.8 million tons, some 89 percent above the 1995 drought-affected level and 40 percent above- average. Favourable rainfall and excellent growing conditions for crops encouraged large plantings in most countries. The report projects southern Africa's aggregate 1996 cereal output at 24 million tons, or 65 percent over the 1995 level and 35 percent above-average."

Reflecting the abundance of new foodcrops on southern African markets, the report finds that most food prices have been decreasing since June and household access to food has improved. The level of cereal import requirement in sub-Saharan Africa in 1996/97 is expected to decline, reflecting increased harvests in southern Africa and favourable outlook in most countries of eastern and western Africa.

However, Rashid said, "Even though there has been a good recovery in world cereal production, 1996/97 is likely to be marked by relatively tight supplies and volatile international cereal prices. In fact, we don't expect global food aid availability to improve much in 1996/97 from its low level of 7.7 million tons in 1995/96. This means that many low- income food deficit countries in Africa, which continue to face a difficult economic outlook and severe balance of payments problems, will be unable to import their full food requirements."

About 40 percent of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa is already chronically undernourished, that is about 215 million people. That number could rise to 265 million in the year 2010, unless action is taken to stem the current trend. Of 82 countries that FAO lists as low-income food-deficit countries, 41 are in sub-Saharan Africa.