PR 96/2 - SPECIAL AFRICA REPORT


PR 96/2

FAO WARNS OF CONTINUING FOOD PROBLEMS IN MANY AREAS OF AFRICA DESPITE SOME RECENT GOOD HARVESTS; FAO DIRECTOR-GENERAL JACQUES DIOUF, IN TALKS WITH AFRICAN LEADERS, SEEKS WAYS TO REDUCE AFRICA'S FOOD AID DEPENDENCY AS FOOD AID SHIPMENTS FALL TO LOWEST LEVELS IN 20 YEARS

NAIROBI, Jan. 22 -- With low stocks in the major donor countries pointing to a sharp decline in food aid availability, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today of a difficult year ahead for much of Africa, as FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf held wide-ranging talks with African leaders to discuss, among other issues, ways to raise Africa's self-sufficiency in food.

According to FAO, food aid allocations to sub-Saharan Africa have dropped as world cereal supplies tighten and shipments of food aid last year were at their lowest level for twenty years.

With a further production decline anticipated this year and given the steep increase in world cereal prices, many of the 44 low-income food- deficit countries in Africa will be hard pressed to make up their food needs through imports, says FAO.

This bleak picture emerges from the quarterly Special Report on the Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa, by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, issued in Nairobi today.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, on a visit to Kenya, said, "The struggle to develop Africa agriculturally and economically is a global necessity, because the world needs Africa as a full and active partner in the global economy. To achieve this, food security in Africa is essential." In 1994/95 sub-Saharan Africa's food aid needs dropped to 70 percent of the average for the previous five years, reflecting generally good harvests in 1994 and high opening stocks in 1994/95 in some countries, notably South Africa and Zimbabwe. However, the continents, cereal production is estimated to have declined by 10 million tons in 1995.

"The sustainable development of African agriculture calls for a dual strategy," Dr. Diouf said, "the development and more rational management of the continent's natural resources, and the widespread adoption of more productive techniques."

A World Food Summit, proposed by Dr. Diouf and endorsed by FAO's governing conference, is scheduled to be held at FAO Headquarters in Rome in November 1996, convening heads of states and governments for a renewed commitment and a plan of action to eliminate hunger and take preventative measures against famine.

According to the FAO Africa report, it is unlikely that global food aid availability will recover to the high levels of the 1980s and early 1990s. Surplus stock holdings in the donor countries, which permitted generous food aid donations, were a result of interventionist policies in domestic and international cereals pricing and marketing. World cereal prices have climbed partly because of reductions in the amount of concessional food exports from the major temperate exporters, the report says.

FAO provisionally estimates the total global availability of cereals food aid in 1994/95 at 8.7 million tons, the lowest level since 1974/75 and an early FAO forecast suggests that food aid availability for 1995/96 would fall even further from the previous year's level.

Notwithstanding the low food aid supply situation, food assistance is still urgently needed to avert a crisis in several countries of eastern Africa, the report says. It cites Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia, where a substantial part of the emergency food needs may be procured locally, as countries with notable food aid requirements. Food aid needs also remain high for Rwanda and donors should make contingencies for a possible deterioration of the food situation in Burundi.

Despite the recent peace agreement, much of the population of Liberia, particulary recent returnees and the internally displaced people, remains dependent on food aid. Only concerted action by the international community can avert a major food crisis in parts of war-torn Sierra Leone, according to FAO.

As the "lean season" between harvests in southern Africa approaches, the report urges donors "to expedite deliveries of food aid to southern Africa against the 1995/96 needs."

The FAO report calls for continued support "to explore sustainable ways of increasing food production" in the low-income food-deficit countries of sub-Saharan Africa in view of the volatile world cereal market and tight supplies of food aid.

FAO has instituted a special programme to improve productivity and production in low-income food-deficit countries, including Kenya.

The 44 low-income food-deficit countries in Africa, comprising half of 88 such nations in the world, are: Angola, Benin, Burkino Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Low-income food-deficit countries are defined as those countries with a per capita income in the range of $1,395, which the World Bank uses for IDA lending, and a negative trade balance in cereals, averaged over the previous five years. Using this definition, there were 88 such countries in 1995.