FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL ALERT

NO. 304

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

Date: 5 April 2000

NORTH AFRICA FACES ANOTHER YEAR OF POOR HARVESTS AND INCREASED CEREAL IMPORTS DUE TO DROUGHT

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OVERVIEW

Current crop prospects in North Africa for 2000 are unfavourable due to prolonged dry conditions since January. With the exception of high altitude locations and the Atlantic coastline which received some light rains in March, crop growing areas in the region extending across Morocco and northern Algeria have received little rain since January. Dry conditions have also affected parts of northern and central Tunisia and northern Libya. This has resulted in total crop loss in several areas of Morocco and Algeria. In Egypt, by contrast, the mostly irrigated wheat crop is growing under favourable conditions so far and a good harvest is in prospect.

The sub-region's crop production (excluding Egypt, where much of the crop is irrigated) has widely fluctuated in recent years, due to recurring droughts. In the last ten years, aggregate cereal production has ranged from 4 million to 8 million tonnes in five drought years, and 10 million to 18 million tonnes in five good years (Chart 1). The 1999 cereal crop was also affected by drought, with output estimated at 8 million tonnes, which was 31 percent below the previous year's harvest. This resulted in a cereal import requirement of about 14 million tonnes for the current marketing year (July/June), an increase of 9 percent over the previous year. Although precise information on drought damage to this year's crops is not yet available, current indications are that aggregate cereal production in the four affected countries could be well below last year's drought-reduced harvest and fall close to the 1997 volume of 6 million tonnes. A second consecutive year of reduced harvests in the sub-region, particularly in Morocco and Algeria which are the most affected, will lead to further increases in cereal imports, putting more pressure on national budgets. In 1999, the drought-induced shortfall in cereal production was largely covered by large stock drawdowns. A shortfall in production in 2000 will, therefore, have to be covered largely by imports.

The outlook is also unfavourable for livestock producers due to a shortage of fodder and water in many areas. This will have serious food security repercussions, particularly for small herders who rely mostly on livestock for their livelihood.

Trends in the sub-region's cereal production and imports over the last ten years are indicated in Charts 1 and 2.

1/ Excluding Egypt.
2/ Projected for 1999/2000.
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SITUATION BY COUNTRY

MOROCCO

Severe drought conditions over most of the country for the past three months have seriously affected the winter crops, due for harvest from May onwards. While the season started with widespread rains in November and December, a prolonged drought since mid-January and a heat wave in February have exhausted soil moisture, causing serious crop stress and damage to large areas of wheat and barley. Satellite images indicate that conditions may be worse than last year when production was seriously reduced by drought. Except in the higher elevations and the Atlantic coastline which received some light rains in March, dry conditions continue to prevail across the country and most regions have generally received less than 100 mm of rain since mid-January. If rains are not received in the next few weeks, several producing areas could face a complete crop failure, while it may already be too late for some crops which have reached the maturity stage.

Initial indications are that this year's cereal harvest could be below the 1999 cereal crop estimated at 3.8 million tonnes, which was 42 percent below the previous year's level, also due to unfavourable weather. As a result, cereal imports in the 1999/2000 marketing year (July/June) are currently estimated at about 4.4 million tonnes, up 26 percent on the previous year. A second consecutive reduced harvest will result in increased grain imports in the 2000/01 marketing year. The subsequent increase in cereal import bill will exert further pressure on scarce foreign reserves.

The Government is preparing contingency measures, including tighter management of available water in dams for humans, livestock and crops, and emergency measures to assist farmers, many of whom were victims of last year's drought.

ALGERIA

Prospects for the 1999/2000 winter crops, to be harvested from May, are uncertain. Prolonged dry weather has prevailed over grain growing areas since mid-January, resulting in spotty crop emergence and stunted plants. Particularly affected are crops in central and western areas while growing conditions are relatively better in the east. Moderate showers in mid-March over some areas provided much needed relief. However, more rain is needed for the remainder of the growing season to avert further decline in yields.

Indications are that this year's harvest will be below the 1999 cereal crop which, estimated at about 2 million tonnes was some 30 percent below the previous year's harvest and below average. Cereal import requirements for the 2000/01 marketing year (July/June), mostly wheat, are likely to exceed the current year's estimated requirement of 6 million tonnes.

TUNISIA

Prospects for the 1999/2000 winter grains to be harvested from May/June are uncertain due to prolonged dry weather in February and March. Rainfall has been erratic with a late start followed by moderate rains in December and January, and then the dry spell. Localized showers continue to be recorded in various areas but cumulative rainfall in March was below normal. More rain is needed in the next several weeks for crops to reach maturity without further reduction in yields. This would also benefit livestock producers by reducing the shortage of water and fodder.

The 1999 cereal production is estimated at 1.8 million tonnes, 9 percent above the previous year's average crop. This includes 1.4 million tonnes of wheat, which is slightly above the 1998 level. Imports of cereals in the marketing year 1999/2000 (July/June), mostly wheat and maize, are estimated at about 1.4 million tonnes, similar to the year before but much below the 1997/98 level when production was affected by drought.

LIBYA

Prospects for the 1999/2000 winter crops, to be harvested from May, are uncertain. Prolonged dry weather has prevailed over winter grain areas of the north and north-east, which will reduce yields. While localized showers continue to be recorded, more rain is needed for the remainder of the growing season to avert further decline in yields.

The 1999 cereal production is estimated at 251 000 tonnes, some 5 percent above the previous year's relatively good crop. The country's cereal import requirements for 1999/2000 are estimated at 2.1 million tonnes, mostly wheat.

EGYPT

In Egypt, prospects for the 1999/2000 winter grain crop, mostly wheat and barley, are favourable. Growing conditions have been satisfactory for the mostly irrigated wheat crop to be harvested from mid-May. The area planted is estimated at about 1 million hectares, similar to the previous year, but yields and production are anticipated to increase as a result of Government incentives to farmers to cultivate new varieties and use improved cropping practices. The 1999 cereal output is estimated at about 17.8 million tonnes, some 3 percent below the previous year but above average. This includes 6.3 million tonnes of wheat, 6.8 million tonnes of coarse grains and 4.6 million tonnes of rice. Nonetheless, the country needs to import about 10 million tonnes of cereals in 1999/2000 (July/June) to meet needs. This includes an estimated 7 million tonnes of wheat and wheat flour.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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