As of March 2003, the number of countries facing serious food shortages throughout the world stands at 38, with 25 in Africa, 6 in Asia, 5 in Latin America and 2 in Europe. In many of these countries the food shortages are compounded by the impact of the HIV-AIDS pandemic on food production, marketing, transport and utilization. Upcoming joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessments will integrate this factor to the extent possible.
In southern Africa, prospects for the 2003 cereal crops have improved with normal to above normal rains in most parts during February, particularly in areas previously affected by dry spells and erratic precipitation. Overall, the outlook is favourable so far and good cereal crops are expected in most countries, provided rainfall continues into late March. However, prospects are poor in Zimbabwe due to prolonged dry conditions and further planting reductions in the commercial sector. A poor harvest is also anticipated in southern provinces of Mozambique, despite rather good prospects at the national level. In other areas affected by dry spells, namely Botswana, Namibia, parts of Lesotho and Swaziland and the Southern Province of Zambia, the outlook remains uncertain as the final outcome will depend on the rains continuing until early April. The weather and crop situation in these areas needs to be closely monitored in the coming weeks.
The tight food supply situation as a result of two consecutive poor harvests has eased with substantially improved food aid distributions in December, January and February, which have prevented a deterioration of the food crisis. Against WFP's appeal for 993 000 tonnes of food aid to assist 10.3 million most affected people in six countries of the sub-region until the end of March 2003, contributions by late February covered 90 percent. Large volumes of unrecorded commercial imports from Mozambique and Tanzania have significantly contributed to closing the cereal deficit in Malawi and Zambia. Prices of maize, the main staple, started to decline in most countries during February and are below their levels of a year ago.
In the Great Lakes region,crop productionduring the 2003 first season declined in Burundi following a late start of the rainy season and insecurity at planting time. Prices of beans and other food crops, including sweet potatoes and bananas, are well above their levels of a year ago particularly in rural markets. Food assistance will continue to be necessary for internally displaced and other vulnerable people during the first half of 2003.In the Democratic Republic of Congo, delayed rains in the Kivu region, coupled with persistent civil conflict, resulted in another reduced harvest during the 2003 first cropping season. The food and nutritional situation of large numbers of internally displaced people remains critical.
In eastern Africa, substantial crop and livestock losses in parts, mainly due to drought, have caused serious food shortages. The food situation is particularly serious in Eritrea and Ethiopia where large amounts of imports, mostly as food aid, are urgently required. In Eritrea, nearly two-thirds of the population face a severe food crisis due to a prolonged drought that seriously affected agricultural and livestock production in 2002. In addition, humanitarian assistance is required for a large number of people displaced by the war with neighbouring Ethiopia in 1998-2000 and returnees from Sudan. In Ethiopia, a recent FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission found that the 2002 grain production declined by about 25 percent due to drought. Large numbers of livestock have died and rates of malnutrition, particularly among children, have increased dramatically. In response the Government has appealed to the international community for 1.44 million tonnes of food to assist more 11 million people. In Sudan, an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission last November/December found that cereal production in 2002 declined by about 30 percent compared to the previous year. This has exacerbated the food difficulties faced by vulnerable groups, particularly those internally displaced by conflict. An estimated 3.5 million people need about 230 000 tonnes in food assistance. In Kenya, despite improved secondary season crop prospects and good rains in the previously drought-affected areas, continued food security concerns are reported in some northern districts. In Uganda, the displacement of a large number of people in northern parts due to escalation of conflict coupled with drought induced crop failures in parts has aggravated food difficulties in the affected areas. Nearly 1.5 million people are currently being assisted by WFP in several parts of the country. By contrast, the overall food supply situation has improved in Somalia and Tanzania due to good harvests but localised food shortages persist due to drought and/or conflict.
In central Africa, a resurgence of fighting in Central Africa Republic has led to the displacement of thousands of people but humanitarian assistance is hampered by insecurity.
In northern Africa, planting is complete for most of the 2002/03 winter cereals to be harvested from April. Normal to abundant rains were registered in January for most of the region and the state of the crops is reported as generally favourable. In Algeria and Tunisia, a recovery in production is expected relative to 2002 when crops were severely affected by dry weather. The outlook is also favourable in Egypt and Morocco and average to above-average harvests are forecast.
In west Africa, serious food shortages have emerged in several parts mainly due to drought and the effects of past and ongoing conflicts.
In the west of the Sahel, the severe drought last year seriously undermined the food security of nearly 600 000 people in Cape Verde, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. An estimated 420 000 people are facing food difficulties in Mauritania, the worst-hit country, where in addition to three consecutive years of severe drought, off-season rains last year killed tens of thousands of livestock, a major source of livelihood for many households. The on-going conflicts in Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia have led to mass displacement and undermined the food security of thousands of people across the sub-region. In Côte d'Ivoire at least one million people have been internally displaced, while another 200 000, mostly migrant workers from neighbouring Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia and Mali, have left the country. In Liberia, thousands of displaced people recently streamed into Sierra Leone and Guinea which already host a large number of refugees and IDPs. This mass displacement has disrupted production and marketing activities, adversely impacting the food supply situation in the concerned countries.
In Asia, with generally unfavourable and erratic monsoon rains, rice, the major food grain in the region, suffered heavy losses (about 16 million tonnes) in 2002, with the bulk of the decline coming from the world's two major producing countries, namely India and China. This was partly offset by modest increases in wheat and other grains production in the region. Substantial improvement in food production for 2002/03 is estimated in Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and the Philippines, while unfavourable weather conditions are expected to reduce food production in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Mongolia and Thailand. China, a major grain producer, and other countries of the region are expected to maintain their normal production levels. DPR Korea with the largest per capita food assistance requirement in the region, has received very little external assistance in recent months in spite of WFP's emergency food appeals. The food supply situation in Mongolia has been adversely affected by the extreme winter weather conditions resulting in 665 000 people requiring emergency food assistance.
In the Near East, cereal harvest in Afghanistan is seen to match the recovered harvest of the previous year following improved precipitation and better growing conditions. However, food aid will be necessary for the returning refugees, the nomads, the disabled and other vulnerable households. Recent good rains in Syria and Jordan have improved prospects for the 2003 cereal crop to be harvested in April/May. In Iraq, the outlook for the 2003 crop production is generally uncertain due to prospects of a possible war. Furthermore, cereal production will be affected by serious shortages of fertilizers, spare parts for agricultural machinery and other agricultural inputs. The food situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is also serious due to food shortages and market disruption which are further aggravated by continued military operations and the current tense political situation.
In the Asian CIS, winter crop conditions are satisfactory following adequate soil moisture and improved precipitation throughout the region. The improvement in forecast harvest is seen more in the food deficit countries of the region, many of which have required some food aid in the recent past. Cereal harvest in Kazakhstan, the main cereal exporter in the region, is forecast to decline by about 2.6 million tonnes, owing to above average winter-kill and reduced area under cereals, particularly in the northern new lands of the country.
In Central America,land preparation is underway for planting of the 2003 first season coarse grain and bean crops. Aggregate cereal outputs in 2002 in Central American countries were some 600 000 tonnes above the average of the last five years. The situation, however, varies from country to country. The food supply situation continues to be tight in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, particularly for the thousands of rural workers who have lost their jobs in the coffee sector. Food assistance is being provided to the most affected groups. In the Caribbean, cereal production for the sub-region as a whole was some 200 000 tonnes above average, but in Haiti coarse grain and paddy outputs were below average due to adverse weather throughout the first half of 2002.
In South America,harvesting of the 2002 wheat crop has been completed in the southern areas while planting of the 2003 coarse grain crops is underway. Aggregate wheat output in 2002 was about 1 million tonnes below the average of the last five years, principally as a result of the decline in production in Argentina, the main wheat producer in the region. Generally normal conditions are reported for the developing maize crops. In the Andean countries, heavy rains and flooding are reported in various departments of Bolivia and southern Peru. A state of emergency has been declared in some of the affected areas. Generally normal weather conditions are reported in Ecuador, where harvesting of the 2003 first season maize crop is due to start from April. In Colombia, harvesting of the 2002/03 second season coarse crops is well advanced. In Venezuela, harvest of the 2002 coarse grain and paddy crops has been completed and below-average harvests are estimated.
In Europe, the winter wheat area in the EU could be marginally down from the previous year's level reflecting reduced price prospects for producers at planting time in the autumn and adverse weather for planting in some parts. Among the central and eastern European countries (CEECs), prospects for the winter cereal crops are mixed. The outlook is least favourable in the northern countries such as Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics, where adverse weather affected the winter grain sowing. However, the outlook remains generally favourable in Hungary and most of the Balkan countries further to the south, where the winter grain area remained close to the previous year's level and crop conditions are reported to be significantly better compared to the previous season.
In the European CIS, severely cold weather conditions and inadequate snow cover have compromised larger than average areas under winter cereals. Winter-kill in the Russian Federation is estimated at more than 2 million hectares, which would be replanted with spring cereals. Aggregate winter cereal harvest, mainly wheat, rye and barley, is likely to decline by nearly 10.4 million tonnes this year compared with 2002. In Ukraine winter crop damage has been significantly higher than average and nearly 1.6 million hectares of cereals are to be replanted in spring. Winter cereal harvest is seen to decline by about 2.8 million tonnes compared with the harvest last year.
In North America, continuing dry weather in the United States winter wheat plains is giving rise to concern over the prospects for this year's harvest. Although beneficial planting rains last autumn got the crops in most parts off to a good start, prevailing dry conditions throughout the winter, on top of last year's drought, have left soil moisture reserves well below desirable levels and significant rains are needed soon for the crops as they break dormancy. The United States winter wheat area is estimated to be up by 6 percent from the previous year, the largest area since 1998. In Canada, early indications for the main spring grain crops to be sown later this year, point to a sharp increase in area after a drought-reduced crop in 2002. However, the area sown will depend largely on the level of spring precipitation as subsoil moisture levels are reported to remain low across much of the main producing areas.
In Oceania, the 2002 winter grain output in Australia is estimated at 15.4 million tonnes, down 61 percent from the previous year's record crop and the lowest harvest since 1982, reflecting severe drought throughout the cropping season. The 2003 summer coarse grain crop also looks set to be significantly reduced by the drought, as plantings are about 20 percent down from the average and yield prospects are poor unless significant rainfall arrives soon for the developing crops.