20 Feb 2002 -- Bangkok - Hundreds of thousands of people in Asia face the prospect of starvation at a time of declining food production in the region, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its latest global food supply report released 20 February.
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are the worst affected among Central Asian countries where drought and continuing economic decline threaten the food security of an estimated 3 million people, according to FAO’s Food Outlook, which periodically takes stock of the world’s cereal, meat and fish production and supply situation. Some 2 million people in the CIS countries are in urgent need of food assistance.
FAO estimates in January 2002 show a total cereal production of 976.6 million tonnes in Asia during 2001, down from 989.3 million tonnes in the preceding year. Asia’s 2001 cereal output includes 537.4 million tonnes of rice, 240.2 million tonnes of wheat and 199 million tonnes of coarse grains.
Except for coarse grains, there were sharp production drops for the two main cereals with a nearly 10 million-tonne fall in wheat and over 7 million-tonne decline in rice output. The decline is mainly due to reduced wheat harvests in China and India and an 8.4 million-tonne fall in China’s rice output compared to the year 2000.
Adverse weather conditions are to blame. However, the typhoons of November 2001, which damaged paddy harvests in the Chinese province of Taiwan, have helped reduce the pressure from oversupply expected this year due to the Province’s WTO (World Trade Organization) commitments to open up its domestic rice market to imports and ban export subsidies.
Despite a lower production compared to 2000, Thailand set a new record in rice exports of 7.5 million tonnes in 2001, which the country is expected to repeat this year. This is 300 000 tonnes more than projected by FAO in its most recent global rice supply report in December 2001.
China, however, remained the world’s top fish producer, accounting for some 41.6 million tonnes of the 2000 global fish production of 130 million tonnes. Thailand was the world’s top exporter of fishery products in 2000, with total exports valued at US$4.3 billion.
China though replaced Norway as the number two fish exporting nation in 2000, with exports of US$3.7 billion, posting a gain of 23 percent over 1999. China’s fishery export industry is adding value to imported raw material by specialising in reprocessing.
However, the economic troubles of Japan – the world’s biggest fish importer –affected shrimp demand there during 2001, even as the market for shrimp in the United States – the second biggest fish importer – was affected after the terrorist attacks there on 11 September. Exports of Chinese shrimp to the European Union were stopped on 29 January 2002 following the scare over the use of antibiotics in cultured shrimp in China.
The slump in world food production and the continuing decline in global cereal stocks from 681 million tonnes in 1999/2000 to 642 million tonnes in 2000/2001 and a projected 587 million tonnes during 2001/2002, is, however, not expected to push up prices. “…wheat and coarse grain prices on international markets are likely to remain stagnant largely because of exceptional large surpluses in a number of countries other than the major exporters.”
The FAO report notes that despite gains in food production in the past year, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is still in urgent need of external food aid as are large numbers of nomadic herders in Mongolia who have lost their livestock to the recent severe winters. So do victims of the devastating 2000 floods in Cambodia and Viet Nam, and tens of thousands of drought-affected, internally displaced people and refugees in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
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