GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 

SPECIAL REPORT

THE IMPACT OF EL NIÑO AND OTHER WEATHER ANOMALIES ON CROP PRODUCTION IN ASIA

25 September 1997



 

OVERVIEW

Since March 1997 significant abnormal warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of South America, has been observed and recognised as an El Niño phenomenon. Such an anomaly is known to occur every 2 to 7 years, with varying degrees of intensity and duration. The phenomenon usually peaks around late December. An El Niño is often associated with important changes in temperatures and precipitation, which may positively or negatively affect agriculture and water resources. The change in sea surface temperatures also affect natural conditions for marine ecosystems.

The last two El Niños occurred in 1982/83, which caused severe flooding and extensive weather-related damage in Latin America and drought in parts of Asia and 1991/92, which resulted in a severe drought in Southern Africa. This year’s El Niño is being predicted by various experts as one of the most severe this century as record Pacific surface temperatures have been observed. Various climate agencies around the world also indicate that the phenomenon will continue throughout 1997 and possibly extend into 1998. The worst affects of El Niño are expected to be felt over the next few months.

Although no precise quantitative association between the occurrence of El Niño and changes in agricultural production can be deduced and while it is difficult to forecast precisely the impact of El Niño in specific areas, as a precaution it is necessary to follow developments and take preventive action to reduce possible adverse affects on agriculture. In keeping with this, in recent months FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System has been closely monitoring weather anomalies and assessing possible effects these may have on crop production and the food supply situation in various parts of the world.

This report, which follows an earlier one on Latin America, focuses on weather anomalies in Asia and the Pacific Rim, where a number of countries are recognised as being particularly susceptible to the possible effects of El Niño. Certainly over the last few months significant deviations in weather patterns in the region and the adverse effects these have had on crop production and food supply give cause for concern.

Although based on past occurrences of climate anomalies in this part of the world it is most likely that the current drought situation in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, and Thailand can be traced back to the El Niño phenomenon, other countries in the region which have had significant weather anomalies of various origins this year are also covered in this report. The latest assessment by country is as follows.
 

Bangladesh

In August, the monsoon remained active across the country, with near- to above-normal rainfall. However, floods during the month caused by heavy rains, in south eastern parts of the country, left over 100 000 people homeless. Earlier floods in July killed around 100 people, made several thousand homeless and damaged crops and property. As a result of favourable cereal production last year, the overall food supply situation is considered to be satisfactory. As at the end of August 1997, Government held stocks were estimated at 919 000 tons of cereals, including 472 000 tons of wheat and 447 000 tons of rice.
 

Cambodia

No specific reports of serious weather anomalies affecting agriculture have been received. There have been reports, however, of heavy rainfall and floods, which have affected development of the early rice crop in parts of the country, specifically in Kratie province in the east, and of drought in other parts. The 1997/98 target for paddy production has been set at 3.6 million tons, slightly higher than estimated output of 3.39 million tons in 1996/97, from an area of 2.17 million hectares. Rice production in the last two years in the country has been favourable.
 

China

In July and August, the worst drought in 20 years is reported to have seriously affected crops, particularly in the provinces of Henan, Hebei, Shanxi, Hubei, Liaoning and Jilin in central and north eastern parts of the country. Officially it is estimated that up to two thirds of the country have been affected by prolonged dry spells, whilst six million hectares of crops have been particularly damaged. In the second dekad of September, rains eased conditions somewhat, but unseasonably low rainfall in central and southwestern regions, where drought conditions continue to affect some 3.1 million hectares of crops along the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze river, may affect the autumn harvest. The recent rain also improved conditions for planting winter wheat, normally sown from the second half of September, in central parts of the country, though more rain is still needed.

Notwithstanding the adverse effects of the drought, the country’s food supply situation remains satisfactory, as overall grain production this year is likely to remain favourable, due to a bumper summer crop and sufficient food stocks. Grain production is officially forecast at above 484 million tons, compared with a record 490 million tons last year.
 

India

No extreme weather anomalies have so far been experienced this year due to a possible El Niño effect. The southwest monsoon, which provides some 80 percent of annual precipitation, has begun withdrawing, most of the country having received average long term rainfall. Notwithstanding some dry pockets, rainfall in 74 percent of districts in the country was normal or above normal and 31 of 35 sub divisions have received good rains. In the second dekad of September, increased monsoon activity favoured developing grain, oilseed and cotton across central parts of the country, particularly in Gujarat.

Although the overall rainfall situation has been normal, poor temporal and spatial distribution of rains adversely affected crops in southern states where reductions of output of winter foodgrains and oilseeds are expected. As a result, the output of winter grains is expected to be some 2 million tons below target and to fall from 105.1 million tons in 1996/97 to around 103.5 million tons in the current marketing year. Overall the output of rice is projected to increase, by some 1.6 million tons, compared to 1996/97, though production of coarse grains and pulses are both expected to fall. The 1997/98 target for rice production, from the kharif and rabi crop, has been set at 83 million tons.
 

Indonesia

The current drought is reported to be the worst in half a century. For the remainder of 1997 and into 1998, dry conditions are predicted to continue over southern Sumatra and Kalimantan, on the Island of Borneo, Java and eastern parts of the country. In these areas, although monsoon rainfall normally begins in September current projections indicate that the first rains are likely to come in November possibly December. The impact of this will be most noticeable on developing second season rice and maize in Java, the country’s largest producing area. It will also affect soil moisture conditions for maize planting in November/December in eastern parts of Java and southern Sumatra. In addition to food crops, insufficient rainfall and dry conditions may also affect the output of coffee in key growing areas of Lampung and Benkulu in south Sumatra, cocoa and rubber. Overall, official estimates indicate that the drought would affect some 300 000 hectares of rice.

Prevailing dry conditions have also exacerbated fires which have affected agriculture and forest plantations and reduced water supplies. In August/September, there have been various reports of falling water reserves in wells and rivers in parts of Sumatra and Java.

As a result of the potential decline in domestic production, imports may increase next year to meet demand, whilst prices of agricultural commodities may also rise. Although food stocks held by the National Food Logistics Agency (BULOG) are reported to be adequate at present, the food supply situation could tighten due to a decrease in domestic production and it is reported that Government agencies are making contingency plans for the supply of emergency food rations to vulnerable segments of the population.
 

Korea DPR

Between June and August the country was affected by a prolonged drought. This is expected to have serious and long reaching repercussions on the country’s already grave food supply situation in coming months and the year ahead, especially as the health of its population has already been severely affected by a shortage of food over the last two years.

Although the 1997 season began favourably with appreciably above normal rainfall in May, subsequently precipitation fell sharply. Consequently, rainfall in the critical months of June, July and August fell to between 20 and 30 percent of the long term average. Crops were also adversely affected by significantly above normal temperatures at critical stages of growth.

The lack of rainfall this year is also likely to affect crop prospects in 1998 as the near depletion of water supplies in rainfed reservoirs will mean that little will be available next April/May for land preparation and key planting operations.

The food outlook for Korea DPR in 1998 is considerably worse than that following the previous two years of disasters. Domestic production of cereals, even under the most optimistic scenario, will cover less than half the country’s minimum food needs, whilst imports from commercial channels are likely to become increasingly strained due to growing economic difficulties and the lack of foreign exchange. Furthermore, as commercial imports last year were highly dependent on barter trade with neighbouring provinces of Jilin and Liaonning in China, the fact that the drought this year also seriously affected crop production in these provinces may reduce surpluses and the volume of trade next year. This, therefore, may exacerbate food problems.

Laos

No specific reports of serious weather anomalies affecting agriculture have been received. However, last month water levels in the Mekong River were reported to be above normal, increasing the probability of floods. Following last year’s reduced harvest, the food supply situation in the country remains tight, especially for vulnerable sections of the population with low food reserves. In March 1997 an emergency operation was jointly approved by FAO and WFP, to raise 30 240 tons of rice for victims of floods in 1996.
 

Malaysia

Rainfall has been below and less frequent than normal. Although the main revenue crops of coffee, cocoa and sugarcane are reported to be in a satisfactory condition so far, in areas affected by severe dry conditions production is forecast to decline. Recently the Government declared a state of emergency in eastern Sarawak due to intense smoke haze from extensive forest fires in Indonesia. At one stage the air pollutant index measured 635 compared to 500 which is considered extremely dangerous.
 

Mongolia

No specific reports of serious weather anomalies affecting agriculture this year have been received. However, serious concerns regarding food security amongst vulnerable sectors of the population in the country persist due to transitional problems in the economy and falling domestic cereal production. An FAO Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission is currently in Mongolia to assess domestic production this year and the need for food imports including emergency food assistance.
 

Myanmar

The worst flooding in 30 years across the country in July and August resulted in a number of deaths. More casualties are expected due to disease, particularly cholera. The floods were as a result of unusually heavy monsoon rains since May. Unconfirmed reports estimate the number of people affected by the floods at between one and two million people, with some 500 000 left homeless. The worst affected areas were central Pegu and Irrawaddy divisions and Mon state in the southeast. Some of the current rice crop may be affected by the floods and there are possibilities of localised food supply difficulties emerging.
 

Pakistan

Overall, the performance of the 1997 southwest monsoon has been somewhat disappointing with a lack of significant moisture till August. In late August, floods and landslides caused by heavy monsoon rainfall in Punjab and North West Frontier Province killed over 140 people, displaced over 21 000 and resulted in extensive damage to property and crops, principally rice and sugar cane. An estimated 52 000 hectares of crop land were destroyed in Punjab, the main agricultural province in the country. Three of the country’s five major rivers, the Ravi, Chenab and Jhelum, are still reported to have exceptionally high water levels, which may result in further flooding as the extra volume of water may damage dykes and embankments. Planting of wheat, the country’s main food crop, will commence in October for harvest next April/May. The 1997/98 target for wheat production is 18 million tons, from around 8.2 million hectares, compared to production of 16.4 million tons in 1996/97 and 16.9 million the previous year. The Government plans to import 4 million tons of wheat in the 1997/98 marketing year to meet demand and replenish buffer stocks.
 

Papua New Guinea

In response to a devastating drought, the most serious for fifty years, the Government recently declared a state of emergency allocating an additional US $14 million in aid to 19 of the country's 20 provinces as concern over food shortages increases. Conditions are expected to deteriorate in the coming months as water supplies for agriculture and human consumption are expected to decline significantly. Large numbers of highlanders, who rely on home gardens, are reported to be deserting villages in search for food as drought has resulted in widespread bushfires destroying homes, crops, grasslands and forests. Rivers and dams have also been severely depleted in highland areas, which have been the worst affected by a combination of four months of drought and serious frosts. The areas most affected include Enga and southern and western Highland provinces, where extensive damage to the sweet potato crop has left communities with severely reduced food supplies and planting material. These regions are also the most vulnerable to food shortages as there are limited alternative foods available and no cash crops to generate income to allow food purchases. In addition to these areas, communities in the upper Fly River, especially those around Kjunga, are experiencing difficulties in meeting food needs as the main river supply line is no longer functioning due to the drought and seriously reduced water levels. Several atolls and small island communities in various provinces are also reported to be in need of assistance.

Although there is possibility of some rainfall later in the year, overall serious drought conditions are likely to continue into December or January 1998 and possibly to March. The food supply and water situation, therefore, is likely to deteriorate significantly. So far official reports indicate that between 700 000 to one million people have been affected by extreme weather conditions and face food shortages. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the country's 1997 coffee crop, a key export, will be reduced by up to 50 percent by the drought, while damage to cocoa and palm oil is being assessed.
 

Philippines

Various parts of the country have been devastated by the worst drought in years and there are expectations that the southwest monsoon may end prematurely this year. In northern parts of the country, rainfall has been below-normal since May affecting major rice and maize growing areas. Elsewhere, large portions of the country, including eastern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, experienced little rainfall throughout August and the number of tropical storms across the country, which bring significant amounts of rainfall, has been fewer than normal.

Current official projections estimate that the output of maize in 1997/98 will drop to 3.92 million tons compared to 4.22 million tons in the previous marketing year. With current demand, the shortfall is estimated to be in the region of 1.4 million tons.

As possible weather anomalies are expected to worsen later this year around November/December, and the beginning of the northeast monsoon, the Ministry of Agriculture has initiated programmes to limit the effects on crops, including campaigns to promote the use of early maturing rice varieties, which can be harvested in three months, and the distribution of organic and inorganic fertilizers to enhance yields. In addition to possible cloud seeding to prompt rain the Government has also increased irrigation capacity through wells and water reservoirs throughout the country.

The current food situation is reported to be satisfactory as the country has sufficient food stocks, particularly rice, for the rest of 1997. However, the situation is being closely monitored and, depending on production in the last quarter, for which planting begins October/November and harvesting next year, there are indications that imports may increase. In mid September the National Food Authority (NFA) was authorised to import 300 000 tons of maize to mitigate the impact of a possible shortage.
 

Sri Lanka

In the second dekad of September, floods and landslides resulted in a number of deaths and left several thousand people homeless in various parts of the Island. Approximately 5 000 homeless people are being housed in temporary relief camps. The water in the Kelani river is reported to be at dangerously high levels and there is further risk of flooding, especially in low-lying areas. Rice production from this year's main 'maha' and second 'yala' crop is expected to be around 1.68 million tons (milled equivalent), some 20 percent higher than last year's drought reduced crop. The country requires some 2.17 million tons for rice utilisation and has an import requirement of around 500 000 tons. Significant quantities of wheat are also imported. In 1996 an estimated 913 000 tons came into the country compared to over a million tons in 1995. Although the overall food supply situation remains satisfactory, there are concerns regarding supplies to the displaced population in parts of the north, especially around Kilinochchi district, where shortages have been reported.
 

Thailand

A prolonged drought from April to July, and floods last month are expected to result in a reduction in crop output this year. Maize is likely to be affected most, whilst prospects for rice improved with rainfall in August. In recent weeks, widespread rainfall over most of the country increased moisture supplies for main-season crops.

In June official estimates projected rice and maize output for 1997/98 at 18.18 million tons and 4.52 million tons, whilst current projections put output at 17.84 million tons and 4.15 million tons respectively. The drought mainly affected foodcrops, sugar cane and coffee whilst the floods affected rubber, palm oil and shrimp production. The floods also resulted in a number of human casualties and left several thousand people homeless.
 

Viet Nam

No specific reports of serious weather anomalies affecting agriculture have been received. In early September, the development of the main 10th month rice may have been affected somewhat by excessive wet conditions and flooding. However, more recently the wet conditions eased in northern parts, whilst drier, warmer weather benefited maturing rice across southern parts. Overall the food supply situation is satisfactory and the Government target for rice exports this year remains 3.5 million tons, of which some 2.7 million tons has already been exported.
 
 

 
This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources and is for official use only. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required

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