FAO/GIEWS: Africa Report No.1, April 1999

Previous Page TOC Next Page


While the overall food outlook for sub-Saharan Africa in 1999 is favourable, serious food supply difficulties persist in many parts. In eastern Africa, Somalia faces a severe food crisis as a result of successive poor harvests and the continuing civil strife. In southern Africa, Angola is heading for a similar food crisis following the resumption of open warfare and renewed large-scale population displacements. In central Africa, the two Congos are gripped by civil wars which are displacing large numbers of people who need external humanitarian assistance. In western Africa, an end to the long-running food emergency in Sierra Leone is not in sight as extreme violence and insecurity continue to destabilise the rural population.


In Angola, despite adequate rainfall over most regions since October, the area planted to crops is expected to be considerably reduced this year due to renewed civil strife since December. Many farmers have abandoned their land to join the rapidly increasing number of displaced people or as refugees in neighbouring countries. Consequently, the 1999 crop is expected to be sharply below the output in recent years, which will aggravate the already precarious food supply situation. The country will, therefore, rely heavily on food assistance to meet its food needs in the 1999/2000 marketing year. Food prices have risen sharply in many regions and this has reduced access to food for the majority of the population. Difficulties in distributing relief assistance have exacerbated the situation, leading to increasing malnutrition, particularly among the internally displaced people. The immediate need is to assist the rapidly increasing number of internally displaced people, currently thought to exceed 500 000, largely concentrated in the provinces of Huambo, Bie, Malanje, Huila and Uige. The necessity to deliver relief assistance by air owing to heightened insecurity means that transport costs are bound to rise.

Elsewhere in southern Africa, rainfall has been generally favourable for the 1998/99 crops in most countries. Heavy rains through January caused localized flooding in some areas, raising concerns that yields might be reduced by water-logging in parts of Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In central Mozambique, floods caused by torrential rains in late February particularly affected several districts of Inhambane Province, with some loss of life, crops and property. In these otherwise drought prone areas, an estimated 40 000 hectares of arable land were flooded and over 70 000 people affected, while some major roads were under water for days or badly damaged. The Government has appealed for international assistance amounting to US$ 12.4 million, for food, seeds and tools, as well as for the repair of damaged infrastructure. Overall for southern Africa, however, indications are that the area sown to maize and other crops has increased compared to last year. The sub-region's cereal output in 1999 is expected to exceed the 1998 level of 14.7 million tonnes, which was, however, about 15 percent below average.


In Somalia, the food supply situation is critical following six successive poor harvests and depletion of food stocks. In addition, the ban since February 1998 by Saudi Arabia on livestock imports from Somalia due to outbreaks of animal disease and the persistent civil strife which has disrupted all economic activities have virtually exhausted coping mechanisms of the population. Insecurity also hampers distribution of relief assistance. The deteriorating nutritional situation gives cause for concern; recent surveys around Qansaxdheere town in the southern Bay region indicate alarming levels of acute malnutrition. Deaths by starvation have been reported in several parts, particularly in the Galgudud and Bakool regions and among the displaced people in search of food. Overall, it is estimated that about 1 million people face food shortages, with some 400 000 at risk of starvation.

The food situation will deteriorate further following the reduced harvest of the secondary 1998/99 Deyr crop and rising food prices. Latest estimates indicate a combined Deyr maize and sorghum production of 80 000 tonnes which, though substantially higher than the poor level of 1998, is 25 percent below the pre-civil strife average (1982-88). Even though there was an increase in the area planted in response to high cereal prices, late and erratic rains resulted in sharply reduced yields. The poor rains have also caused water shortages for humans and livestock, particularly in the northwestern areas.

Emergency food aid for the affected population will be needed until at least the next main harvest in August to avoid further hardship and loss of life. There is also an urgent need for seeds for planting in the main "Gu" season which starts in April.

In Eritrea, the conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia has disrupted agricultural and trade activities in border areas, where the food situation has become difficult. It is particularly serious for some 100 000 internally displaced people who have fled from the conflict area and 60 000 returnees from Ethiopia who have abandoned their farms and possessions. Overall, the Government estimates that some 450 000 people have been affected by the conflict and are in need of food aid, for which it has appealed for international assistance.

In Ethiopia, despite a bumper grain harvest in 1998 with exportable surpluses, the food situation is serious for large number of vulnerable population, including pastoralists in areas affected by dry weather and those displaced by the on-going conflict in areas bordering Eritrea. An FAO/WFP Mission last December estimated that 1.9 million most vulnerable rural people, affected by localized poor harvests, were in need of food assistance for a period of six months. The food supply situation is also tight for the pastoral population in southern and eastern areas, following the failure of the rainy season. This has led to a deterioration of pastures and shortages of water for both humans and animals. The number of the most affected people is estimated at 145 000 in the Borena Zone of Oromiya region. The Government has started food relief distribution to the affected areas. Severe food difficulties are also being experienced by the population affected by the war with Eritrea, mainly subsistence farmers in poor agricultural areas who have been unable to harvest their main (meher) crop. International food assistance is being provided to 272 000 internally displaced people.

In Sudan, a record cereal harvest was gathered in 1998 and the country has a large exportable surplus of sorghum. Prices of sorghum have declined sharply, making it unprofitable to harvest this crop in some areas, and jeopardizing planting prospects for the next season. On the other hand, access to food for the majority of the population has improved with the decrease in prices. In the southern parts, however, the food situation continues to be difficult due to persistent civil strife, although a satisfactory harvest in 1998 and increased food aid distribution in the second half of the year have resulted in a marked improvement in the nutritional status of the local population. The severe disruption of economic activities and persistent insecurity in southern Sudan necessitate continued food assistance. An FAO/WFP Mission in December l998 estimated that 2.36 million people, mostly war-affected, were in need of emergency food assistance estimated at 173 000 tonnes in 1999.

In Tanzania, the recently harvested secondary "Vuli" crop in northern and coastal areas was sharply reduced by late and below-normal precipitation during the rainy season. The 1998/99 "Vuli" maize output was estimated by a recent FAO/WFP Crop and Food and Supply Assessment Mission at 228 000 tonnes, 60 percent below last year's already reduced level and 40 percent below average. Even though Vuli production only accounts for about 17 percent of the national cereal production, its contribution to the annual food supplies of the households in the Vuli growing regions is very important. Worst affected regions are the Coast, Morogoro and the lowlands of Kilimanjaro and Arusha.

The shortfall in the 1998/99 Vuli production has significantly increased the number of people that are vulnerable to food shortages. At the time of the last main harvest in June/July 1998, it was estimated that 300 000 people were in need of some form of emergency assistance because of localized crop failures in the central regions of Dodoma and Singida, where food security remains precarious following a succession of bad harvests. With the reduced output of the Vuli season, the number of people requiring food assistance has risen to an estimated 1.1 million. The Government has released 10 000 tonnes of maize from its Strategic Grain Reserve for relief assistance and has appealed for additional 20 000 tonnes of food aid to be distributed in 12 affected provinces.

At the national level, the poor Vuli crop has further tightened the maize supply situation. Despite a good 1998 main harvest, domestic supplies of maize have been reduced by higher than anticipated storage losses and increased unofficial cross-border trade, causing sharp rises in maize prices since December. However, the country has ample supplies of other foodcrops, mostly tubers and plantains, even though they tend to be available mostly where they are produced, due to their bulkiness. In addition, commercial imports in the coming months are anticipated to substantially reduce the deficit in response to the lifting of the import duty on maize.

In Kenya, the recently harvested 1998/99 "short rains" maize crop is provisionally estimated at only one-quarter of the normal level. The short rains crop accounts for only 15 percent of annual maize production, but it provides most of the supplies in the producing provinces of Eastern, North-eastern, Nyanza and Coast. Late and insufficient rains during the season caused reductions in plantings and yields. The dry weather also reduced the production of beans and Irish potatoes and negatively affected pastures and water supplies.

While the overall food supply situation is satisfactory and prices of maize, the main staple, have declined sharply following the good 1998 main "long rains" harvest, the food situation is difficult in short rains growing areas. Severe food shortages are being experienced in parts of Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Maragua, Thika and Nyeri districts of Central Province, as well as in several locations in Eastern Province. The situation is anticipated to deteriorate in the coming months with the depletion of food stocks. Emergency food aid is urgently needed in these areas.

In Uganda, despite a reduced 1998 second season cereal and bean harvest, the overall food supply situation is adequate, reflecting ample availability of other food staples, such as bananas/plantains, and roots and tubers. However, food difficulties are being experienced in pockets of the eastern and central regions, and in the Lake Victoria Basin affected by rain failure. The situation is particularly difficult in Kifamba sub-county of Rakai District, which has experienced a succession of poor harvests. Food assistance is being distributed in this area, as well as for 400 000 displaced persons in the northern districts of Gulu and Kitgum, where persistent civil conflict has seriously hampered agricultural production.


In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the food supply situation remains tight, especially in the east. Increased population displacement by the ongoing armed conflict is reported. A UN mission recently visited areas under rebel control to explore the possibility of resuming humanitarian assistance to the displaced populations, including provision of agricultural inputs and food. As a result of discussions with the different parties, it has been agreed to re-establish a UN presence in Goma. In Kinshasa, the nutritional situation of its population is deteriorating as prices of basic food commodities continuously increase. A recent survey of families on the outskirts of Kinshasa indicated that 90 percent of daily household expenditures go on food. Many of the agricultural areas that supply Kinshasa remain cut off. In addition, the outflow of food commodities from Kinshasa to Brazzaville has reduced food availability. Food supply is also tight in Lubumbashi, where flooding in the surrounding areas last year destroyed up to 70 percent of crops, and where a large number of displaced people from Kalemie, Nyunzu and Nyemba have taken refuge. In the provinces bordering Congo Brazzaville and Angola, tens of thousands of refugees are reported coming in, fleeing from renewed fighting in the two countries.

In the Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville), the food supply situation in Brazzaville has deteriorated significantly following an upsurge of fighting which has caused renewed population displacement in the capital. Fighting also erupted in the Pool region in the south of the country. Food prices have increased sharply. An estimated 31 000 displaced people living in several camps in the eastern part of the city are totally dependent on humanitarian assistance. However, an improvement in the security situation has been reported in recent weeks.

In Burundi, dry spells during the 1999A season resulted in reduced production of cereals and pulses. While the supply of these staples is tight, it is satisfactory for other foodcrops such as roots and tubers and bananas. The suspension of the international trade embargo, imposed in 1996, has stimulated economic and commercial activities. However, the security situation remains very unstable and continues to threaten food security in many areas. Food difficulties are particularly serious for some 550 000 people still living in regroupment camps because of persisting insecurity and sporadic violence. Food aid, estimated at 50 000 tonnes, will be needed in 1999 for some 300 000 vulnerable people.

In Rwanda, latest production estimates indicate a substantial increase in total food production of the recently harvested 1999 A season crop. This mainly reflects a good root and tuber harvest. Production of bananas and plantains was also adequate. By contrast, erratic rains during the growing season negatively affected yields of cereals and beans, resulting in an output decline of 15 percent over the same season last year. Food supply, except for grains, is satisfactory. Prices of basic staples (roots, tubers, bananas and plantains) have decreased to one-third of their level a year ago. This has improved access to food by the poor. However, the food situation continues to be unsatisfactory in the northern and northwestern prefectures affected by persistent insecurity, particularly in the prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. Of the estimated 600 000 internally displaced people living in camps, approximately half have been resettled in new sites. International food assistance continues to be needed for these IDPs.


In the Sahelian countries, the 1998 aggregate cereal production in the nine CILSS countries is estimated at a record 10.4 million tonnes (including rice milled), which is some 35 percent higher than in 1997 and 20 percent above the average of the last five years. Record crops were gathered in Chad, Mali and Niger. Output was above average in The Gambia and Mauritania, close to average in Burkina Faso and Senegal, but below average in Cape Verde. Cereal production in Guinea-Bissau is anticipated to be well below average due to civil strife which hampered agricultural activities.

Following good harvests, the food supply situation will improve in 1999 compared to 1998 when localized poor harvests in several Sahelian countries reduced aggregate production. Farmers are expected to replenish their stocks, which had been depleted following average to below-average harvests in recent years. Low prices of cereals may also facilitate the replenishment of national food security reserves, which were almost exhausted in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger. However, localised food supply difficulties are anticipated during the lean season, particularly in southern Chad, parts of Mauritania and in several traditionally food-deficit areas elsewhere. Donors are urged to undertake local purchases in the surplus areas of Chad, Niger and Senegal for transfer to deficit areas, replenishment of national reserves and/or triangular transactions.

In Sierra Leone, the food outlook for 1999 remains unfavourable due to the continuing violence and widespread insecurity. Severe food and fuel shortages are still reported in Freetown but economic activities are picking up with the return of traders and the reopening of banks. However, as staff of most international humanitarian agencies have not yet returned to the country, a number of scheduled agricultural rehabilitation activities, particularly distribution of seeds and tools and technical assistance, will be delayed or remain very limited. Food production during the coming growing season which starts in April is expected to be seriously reduced in line with recent trends. In 1998, despite favourable agro-meteorological conditions, the area planted was estimated to have been substantially lower than in 1997 due to insecurity and cereal output was estimated at 400 000 tonnes, which was 20 percent lower than in the previous year. FAO estimates Sierra Leone’s cereal import requirement for 1999 at about 290 000 tonnes, including 140 000 tonnes of food aid.

Resurgence of fighting in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau, on 31 January 1999 led to new population displacements. The conflict started in the capital in June 1998 at the beginning of the growing season, and spread to other towns. It seriously disrupted land preparation and planting and the distribution of inputs to farmers. About 400 000 people, almost 80 percent of the capital’s population, fled their homes to the rural regions of Cacheu, Biombo and Quinara, and to the coastal islands or neighbouring Senegal and Guinea Conakry. A cease-fire agreement signed in Praia on 26 July allowed partial resumption of field activities but the fighting resumed in October, disrupting the harvesting of crops.

Field assessments are difficult due to insecurity. Satellite imagery indicates that rainfall was generally above average in August and September. FAO estimates the 1998 cereal production at 120 000 tonnes compared to 174 000 tonnes in 1997, a decrease of some 30 percent, and about one-third less than the average of the last five years.

In Liberia, a recovery in agricultural production and food supply is expected to continue in 1999 as a result of improved security conditions. Foodcrop production in 1998 has been estimated at 210 100 tonnes of paddy and 313 300 tonnes of cassava, which is a significant improvement over the previous years. An expansion in planted area as a result of the return of large numbers of farm families, increased yields due to greater access to both inputs (especially seeds and tools) and extension services are the main factors behind the increasing production.

International assistance is still being provided in most parts of the country and some improvement in the nutritional status of the population is reported. For 1999, Liberia will need to import an estimated 155 000 tonnes of cereals to meet its consumption requirements. Commercial imports are estimated at 100 000 tonnes of rice and 5 000 tonnes of wheat. The remaining 50 000 tonnes will need to be covered by food aid, estimated at 30 000 tonnes of wheat and 20 000 tonnes of maize products such as maize flour for distribution to the displaced people.


The level of cereal import requirements in sub-Saharan Africa in 1998/99 is expected to decline compared to 1997/98, reflecting good harvests in the Sahelian countries of western Africa and several countries of eastern Africa. GIEWS preliminary estimates of 1998 production and 1998/99 import and food aid requirements are summarized in Table 1. The total food aid requirements in 1998/99 are estimated at some 1.6 million tonnes compared to 2.6 million tonnes in 1997/98, a decline of 38 percent. Cereal food aid pledges for 1998/99, including those carried over from 1997/98, amount to 1.46 million tonnes, of which 0.95 million tonnes have already been delivered.


The food situation in Somalia gives cause for serious concern. Following six successive poor harvests and persistent civil strife, large sections of the country’s population are in desperate need of food and other humanitarian assistance. Angola is heading towards a serious food crisis with the resumption of open warfare, leading to large-scale population displacements. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in the east, food production continues to be hampered by incessant fighting, population displacement and widespread insecurity. In Sierra Leone, insecurity and violence keep farm families away from their farms, disrupting food production activities.

Against this background, the attention of the international community is drawn to the following areas requiring assistance:

First, the desperate food situation in Somalia calls for urgent food assistance, as well as seeds for planting in the upcoming cropping season to prevent a possible human catastrophe.

Second, an impending humanitarian crisis of a large scale is unfolding in Angola and everything possible should be done to forestall it.

Third, a concerted effort should be made to reach and assist the displaced and vulnerable populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Fourth, sustained donor assistance is needed for the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector in Liberia, Rwanda, and other countries where prospects for lasting peace are a reality, following devastation by prolonged civil strife.


A recent FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Tanzania found that, with the exception of Kigoma and Kagera, rainfall in all other Vuli areas was significantly delayed and well below normal, which seriously affected land preparation and planting. The worst affected regions were the Coast and the lowlands of Arusha, Morogoro and Kilimanjaro where rainfall was less than 25 percent of normal. As a result of reduced rainfall, planted area and yields fell sharply and overall Vuli maize production will be significantly below normal. Rainfall over the next two months will also be critical for crop production and food supply prospects, as it will heavily influence the outcome of the main Musumi and Masika crops to be harvested from May. In the event that these crops fail, the food situation is likely to deteriorate significantly.

In addition, domestic maize supplies for the current marketing year were also reduced by higher than anticipated storage losses. These losses were due to a combination of ineffective pesticide use, generally poor storage facilities and high levels of grain borer infestation. On the basis of post harvest inspections of storage facilities, the level of loss is estimated to be much higher than was anticipated by the last FAO/WFP mission in August, which did not have the benefit of such inspections. Supplies may also have been reduced by increased unofficial cross border trade in maize to Zambia, in response to higher prices as a result of significantly reduced production last year. In addition to supply constraints, there was increased demand for maize this year in regions like Dodoma and Singida, where the principal sorghum and millet crops failed almost totally last year. In these regions the food situation is more precarious than in other parts of the country as the harvest has failed for three successive years and the population has less access to alternative foods, such as bananas and tubers.

The sudden rise in maize prices in late October/early November over a relatively short period, suggests that in addition to developing shortages, which would have had a more gradual impact on price, there was a considerable degree of hoarding. The hoarding was principally due to (i) the failure of the rains during these months, which are essential for both short and long season preparations and (ii) considerable coverage in the national press warning of impending food problems. This view is supported by discussions the mission had with small and medium traders in surplus areas in the south.

Although the availability and price of maize and, to a lesser extent, sorghum and millet, give cause for concern, the supply of other foods, such as cassava, sweet potatoes and bananas, is satisfactory in the main producing areas. Rice, however, though also in satisfactory supply, still remains beyond the reach of poorer sectors of the population who have limited purchasing power.

Based on area and yield estimates and the pattern of rainfall this year, 1999 Vuli maize production is estimated at 228 000 tonnes, some 60 percent lower than last year and 40 percent below the long term average. Taking into account estimated stocks of 120 000 tonnes, available at the beginning of February, the domestic availability of maize for the remaining four months of the current marketing year is projected at 348 000 tonnes. Most of the stock is held by large traders and the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR). Against this, utilisation needs, including allowances for food, seed, feed, waste and closing strategic stocks, are estimated at 909 000 tonnes. To meet these needs, therefore, the country has an estimated import requirement of approximately 561 000 tonnes, of which contracted commercial imports are estimated at 75 000 tonnes and food aid in the pipeline a further 3 000 tonnes. This leaves the country with an uncovered import requirement of 483 000 tonnes, of which 20 000 will be requested as further food assistance through WFP. In the meantime the Government has released 10 000 tonnes through the SGR in relief assistance.

The shortfall in current Vuli production and successive poor harvests in parts of the country has significantly increased the numbers of people that are vulnerable to food shortages. At the time of the last FAO/WFP assessment, it was estimated that 300 000 people were in need of some form of emergency assistance. However, as this assumed a normal Vuli harvest, the fact that crop production has fallen sharply this season means that a larger number of people will need additional food assistance. The estimate of people needing food assistance, therefore, has been revised to approximately one million, for whom an additional 20 000 tonnes will be requested.

Previous Page Page Top TOC Next Page