WEATHER CONDITIONS AND CROP PROSPECTS
In northern Africa, winter grains are heading throughout the region. Timely rains benefited crops in Morocco and parts of Algeria and Tunisia. During March, the highest amount of precipitation was recorded in southern Morocco and western Algeria. Farther east, periodic showers maintained generally adequate moisture conditions for winter grains in Algeria while unseasonably cool weather lowered crop-moisture requirements. Yield prospects for the winter grain crop in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia will be highly dependent on rain in coming weeks as the crop advances through the reproductive and filling stages.
In western Africa, the onset of rains in early March in southern parts of countries along the Gulf of Guinea allowed planting of the first maize crop, whilst seasonably dry conditions prevail in the north. In Liberia, agriculture is recovering with rehabilitation programmes and food aid distributions underway. In Sierra Leone, the humanitarian situation remains difficult but some limited rehabilitation activities are underway. In the Sahel, seasonably dry conditions prevail. 1998 aggregate cereal production in the nine CILSS countries is estimated at a record 10.9 million tonnes, some 35 percent above 1997 and 20 percent above average. Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger had record production, whilst output was above average in The Gambia and Mauritania and close to average in Senegal. In Cape Verde, however, output was below average. Cereal production in Guinea-Bissau is anticipated to be well below average due to civil strife hampering agriculture. Several countries have cereal surpluses for transfer to deficit areas within the countries, or for export or triangular food aid transactions.
In central Africa, planting of coarse grains is underway in southern Cameroon and Central African Republic. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, prospects are poor for the bean crop in Kivu due to shortages of inputs and civil unrest. Agricultural activities have also been hampered by civil disturbances in the Republic of Congo.
In eastern Africa, normal to above-normal rains in March favoured planting and establishment of the 1999 main season foodcrops in most countries. Early prospects are favourable throughout the sub-region. Rains also improved pastures and water supplies in pastoral areas previously affected by severe dry weather. In Sudan, however, the outlook for the irrigated wheat crop being harvested is unfavourable due to a sharp decline in plantings and high temperatures early in the season.
In southern Africa, harvest prospects are generally favourable following good rains in recent months. If favourable conditions continue, indications are that 1999 cereal production may exceed the 1998 production (18.3 million tonnes), which was 15 percent below average. Production is anticipated to recover in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, while good harvests are in prospect in Madagascar, Malawi and Swaziland. Above-average output is also expected in Mozambique, despite torrential rains in late February/early March, which resulted in flooding and loss of lives, property and crops in parts. Prospects remain uncertain in Namibia and Botswana where rainfall has been irregular. Sharply reduced production and tight food supplies are expected in Angola due to renewed fighting since late 1998. There will be heavy reliance on food assistance.
In Asia, the current outlook for winter grains, for harvest from April, remains mixed. In India , Pakistan and Bangladesh a good wheat crop is in prospect due to favourable weather and increased plantings. Favourable rainfall also benefited main-season rice in Indonesia and improved the outlook for secondary rice in Thailand. In contrast, drought seriously affected the winter wheat crop in major producing areas of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also damaged the boro rice crop in parts of Bangladesh. In Afghanistan, prospects for the 1999 harvest in May/June remain uncertain due to ongoing fighting in the north and shortages of inputs. In DPR Korea, planting of main season crops will begin in May, but prospects remain uncertain due to economic problems and shortages of inputs.
In Central America and the Caribbean, conditions are favourable for planting first season cereal and bean crops. Assuming normal weather continues, production is forecast to be above 1998 and 1997 when crops were severely affected by hurricane "Mitch" and El Niño. In the Caribbean, in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the outlook is good for recently planted coarse grain and paddy, while in Cuba, unusually dry weather continues to affect crops, particularly in areas struck by drought last year due to El Niño.
In South America, harvesting of 1999 maize is underway in southern areas. Average to above-average production is forecast in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, while in Chile, output is forecast to fall significantly due to severe dryness at planting. In the Andean countries, harvesting of 1999 main season crops is about to start in Bolivia and Ecuador, and a recovery is expected from last year's El Niño affected crops. In Peru, harvesting of yellow and white maize is underway and average/above-average outputs are forecast. In Colombia and Venezuela, planting of 1999 main season cereal and other food crops has begun and average plantings are tentatively forecast.
In Europe, latest indications point to a fall in cereal production in 1999. Winter grain plantings fell in the EC, whilst excessive winter rainfall in northern parts at the same time as a long dry spell in southern Spain and Portugal is expected to reduce yields. Spring planting is underway throughout much of the Community but the outlook is uncertain. Elsewhere in Europe generally lower cereal production is expected in 1999. Limited demand depressed the grain market in 1998 in many central and eastern European countries. This reduced farmers' incentive to plant winter cereals for 1999 and also aggravated the tight financial situation of many farmers. In Croatia, the 1999 wheat production is expected to decline in response to a sharp reduction in the area sown due to economic problems and shortages of inputs. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 1999 wheat production is also expected to decline due to reduced plantings. In the Kosovo Province in particular 1999 crop production will be very limited due to the severe security problems. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in Albania, the prospects for spring crop planting are still unclear. However, in view of the massive influx of refugees to these countries, FAO is already investigating possibilities where international assistance could help boost production in the area. In the Baltic countries, the outlook for winter cereals remains satisfactory. The area sown to winter grains remained fairly stable. Spring coarse grain plantings are unlikely to expand due to difficulties in the livestock industry. Given normal weather, 1999 grain production could recover somewhat in Latvia and Lithuania from last year.
In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), normal weather is expected to lead to a recovery in yields from last year. Area planted and yields still remain constrained by financial problems and restricted access to credit and inputs. The area under winter grains declined marginally, mainly due to reduced planting in the Russian Federation. Over 10 percent of the aggregate winter grain area may need to be reseeded. In Kazakhstan, planted area is expected to decline by 1 million hectares to 12.2 million. Based on winter and projected spring plantings, and given normal growing conditions, FAO forecasts 1999 grain and pulse harvest at 125 million tons - up from an estimated 108 million tons in 1998. In the Russian Federation, winterkill could be less than 2 million hectares, and 1999 production is currently forecast at 65 million tons.
In North America, wheat output in the United States is forecast to fall by about 15 percent, following the lowest winter wheat plantings since 1972/73. Early coarse grains crops have already been planted in some southern parts. First indications point to reduced maize and sorghum plantings. In Canada, the bulk of the wheat and coarse grain crops for harvest in 1999 will be planted in the coming weeks. Little change in area compared to the previous year is expected.
In Oceania, planting of the main 1999 wheat and coarse grains crops in Australia will begin in May. Early indications point to little change in area compared to the previous year. Harvest of the minor 1999 summer coarse grains crop, mainly sorghum and maize, is underway and a bumper output is expected after favourable winter rains encouraged plantings.