Slow recovery in food production fuels rising food prices in the Great Lakes region. Despite the easing of the refugee crisis, the food supply situation continues to be tight, reflecting slow recovery in production due in part to localized weather adversities, in the face of a huge expansion in the demand for food largely arising from the massive return of refugees last December. The situation is aggravated by persisting insecurity and armed conflict in parts of Rwanda and Burundi, which continually disrupt farming activities. Moreover, commercial activities in Burundi continue to be constrained by the economic embargo imposed by neighbouring countries. Food prices are very high, making access to food exceedingly difficult for the large number of vulnerable people. The food situation of the remaining Rwandan refugees in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is very precarious, following the recent forced departure of UNHCR. In Congo Brazzaville, civil strife in recent months displaced a large number of Brazzavillé population and seriously disrupted the food supply system.
In Sierra Leone, the food supply outlook remains grim. For large sections of the population, access to food has become very difficult due to shortages and the resulting high prices, as well as the widespread collapse of livelihoods. Malnutrition is reported to be on the increase throughout the country and the situation is likely to get worse with the recent imposition of sanctions. Despite the very favourable crop growing conditions and NGOsí efforts to assist farmers with inputs, food production continues to be hampered by insecurity and population displacements. With little humanitarian assistance following the departure of international relief agencies last June, the food situation is precarious. Increasing lawlessness is also reported. In neighbouring Liberia, some recovery in production is anticipated, mainly due to the prevailing relative peace and stability, but full recovery will take some time and substantial external assistance will be required.
Elsewhere in western Africa, harvest prospects are mixed following mid-season dry spells in parts of the Sahel. Following well below normal rains over most of Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania in July and August, which severely affected early planted crops, rainfall improved in late August/September but harvest prospects remain unfavourable for rainfed crops. In Mauritania, the replenishment of water reserves and dams assured sufficient water supplies for irrigated crops. A series of Crop Assessment Missions visited all Sahelian countries to estimate 1997 production of cereals. Aggregate output of cereals for the nine CILSS member countries is currently estimated at 9.1 million tons, which is close to the average for the past five years.
Southern Africaís food supply position remains generally stable, despite a reduced harvest due to weather adversities in parts and the looming threat of a possible El Niño-induced drought later in the just-started cropping season. Aggregate cereal production for 1997, while still above average, is some 10 percent down on last year. A very tight food supply situation has developed in Malawi, where cereal output fell sharply due to localized dry weather and floods. Overall, however, with large carryover stocks in several countries, the food supply in the sub-region should remain stable during the 1997/98 marketing year, with cereal-surplus countries being in a position to supply those facing deficits. With the general nervousness over a possible El Niño-induced drought, however, farmers may retain more grain for family consumption, leading to greater external sourcing of cereal imports.
Sub-Saharan Africaís cereal import requirements for 1997/98 are projected to be higher than in 1996/97, reflecting reduced harvests in several parts. However, the precise extent of the increase will depend on the harvest outcome in eastern and southern Africa.