24 Dec 2002 -- Bangkok - Hunger will remain a fact of life for many Asians as the slump in cereals production, including rice, is expected to continue in Asia and the rest of the world while population continues its inexorable rise, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says in its latest global food supply report.
Although farmers in Asia and Europe are now likely to produce slightly more crops this year than earlier expected, overall production is likely to be as bad as 1995 thanks to Australia’s drought and famine in southern Africa, forecasts the FAO’s Food Outlook, which takes a snapshot of global food production and supply five times a year.
Production and stocks of coarse grains, rice and wheat are seen falling worldwide, while prices are expected to climb. China’s cereal stocks are forecast to fall for their fifth executive year. Stocks in India are also likely to shrink.
FAO forecasts Asia’s total cereal production at 991.6 million tonnes this year, down from an estimated 992.8 million in 2001. This includes 530.8 million tonnes of rice, against 543.2 million tonnes estimated for last year.
A predicted 12 million tonne production drop in India, whose fast growing population is likely to exceed China’s in a few years, is the main reason for lower rice output.
Global rice stocks, particularly important to Asia where rice is the staple food for billions of people, are expected to register one of their largest declines on record next year, down 23 million tonnes from their opening level to about 125 million tonnes. Only a few months ago, 130 million tonnes was being forecast.
Bad weather in China, India and Thailand has pushed down rice output by five million tonnes to a forecast 584 million tonnes this year.
Stocks could recover later next year though, as Thailand’s exports are expected to match the record 7.5 million tonnes of 2001, after slumping to 7 million tonnes this year. Viet Nam’s exports are also likely to recover, hitting 3.9 million tonnes against 3.2 million estimated for this year.
Asia’s output of wheat is forecast to rise about 15 million tonnes to 246.5 million tonnes and of coarse grains up around seven million tonnes to 214.3 million tonnes according to the forecasts.
More coarse grains should be grown around Asia, except in India as productions estimates have been cut sharply. Fortunately Indians may find a greater abundance of pulses as output is forecast to rise to 14 million tonnes, as fields recover from last year’s drought. Production is also rising in China, Myanmar and Thailand in response to higher prices.
Global wheat output may improve next year, but a dry winter means China will grow less wheat than normal. However the impact may be less than in the past as diets are changing, so Chinese are using less wheat in their food. Favourable weather in South Asia is raising hopes for better production there.
Neighbouring Central Asia’s political troubles could grow as more are likely to go hungry in Tajikistan, where a persistent drought and a seed shortage means less pulses will be grown.
On the other side of the continent, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea may require less food aid as coarse grain output is forecast to hit 1.8 million tonnes this year, up from last year’s estimated 1.6 million tonnes. Rice production is seen climbing 100,000 tonnes to 2.2 million tonnes.
World cereal production is expected to decline to 1 833 million tonnes for 2002/2003, a 3.2% drop on the previous year, while stocks are set to plunge 110 million tonnes to 466 million tonnes next year.
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