FAO/GIEWS - Foodcrops and Shortages No.4, October 2003

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As of October 2003, the number of countries facing serious food shortages throughout the world stands at 38, with 23 in Africa, 8 in Asia, 5 in Latin America and 2 in Europe. In many of these countries, food shortages are being compounded by the effect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on food production, marketing and transport. The recently published joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment reports highlight this factor (http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/Faoinfo/economic/giews/english/alertes/sptoc.htm").

In eastern Africa, abundant rains in July and August generally improved the prospects for the 2003 cereal crops. However, severe floods and erratic rains in some areas may still affect yields. The regional climate forecast for the period from September to December 2003 is mixed. Most parts of Uganda, southern Sudan and southern Ethiopia are expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall, while it has been predicted that large parts of Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania would receive normal to below-normal rainfall. Areas that will require close monitoring include the northern Rift Valley, southeastern districts in Kenya, sections of eastern Ethiopia and the Sool Plateau in Somalia. September–December rainfall varies in impact and importance depending on the geographical location. In northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, for example, these rains complete the moisture requirements for maturing crops, while they constitute the minor growing season in southern Uganda or the main growing season in eastern Kenya and Rwanda. In south central Tanzania, these rains mark the beginning of the long unimodal rainy season. In northern Kenya and Somalia, they are vital for replenishing water resources and regenerating pasture in grazing areas for herds and flocks.

Several countries in the subregion still face serious food difficulties. In Eritrea, about 2.3 million people are now reported to be facing severe food shortages as a result of last year’s drought, poverty and the lingering effects of the war with Ethiopia. Similarly, in Ethiopia, a recent multi-agency assessment indicated that the number of people in need of food assistance now stands at about 13.2 million, compared to the earlier figure of 12.5 million. In Tanzania, prolonged drought conditions in several areas have affected a large number of households, with an estimated 1.9 million people in need of food assistance. The situation in northern and eastern areas of Uganda has deteriorated with the escalation of armed conflict. Recent fighting between government forces and rebels has displaced more than 820 000 people, bringing the total number of those in need of emergency assistance to more than 1.6 million.

In southern Africa, land preparation for planting of the 2004 cereal crops starting in October has begun under normal weather conditions so far. Production of the 2003 cereals was estimated at 21.8 million tonnes, slightly higher than in 2002. While in most countries of the region the output recovered from the reduced levels of the previous two years, it decreased in Botswana and remained below average in Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland, as well as in parts of Namibia, Madagascar and Mozambique. Substantial amounts of emergency food aid are still required in these areas, and mainly in Zimbabwe, where the needy are estimated to number some 5.5 million. Food assistance will also be required for 1.1 million returnees in Angola and for large groups affected by HIV/AIDS throughout the subregion. In view of these requirements, WFP has warned of projected critical food aid pipeline breaks for its Southern Africa Regional Emergency Operation; additional donor contributions are needed to avoid disruptions in food distributions during the hunger period that will begin early next year.

In the Great Lakes region, the 2004 first-season foodcrops, which will be harvested early next year, have begun to be planted. Good rains in late August and early September have helped the operations in the fields. However, in DR Congo, the civil war continues to disrupt all agricultural activities, particularly in eastern and northeastern areas of the country. Food insecurity and serious nutritional problems have been reported in several provinces. In the Ituri area, which has been affected by heavy fighting in the past months, on the other hand, the security situation and access by humanitarian agencies to needy populations improved with the arrival of UN peacekeepers in early September. In some areas of Burundi, 2003 aggregate foodcrop production (first and second season) declined with respect to last year’s level as a result of erratic weather and insecurity. The security situation remains volatile in many areas, including the capital city of Bujumbura, Cibitoke, Kayanza, Bujumbura Rural and Bubanza provinces, where serious violent incidents in the past month have resulted in fresh waves of population displacements. In Rwanda, the 2003 aggregate food production was satisfactory, but in Bugesera Region it decreased as a result of dry weather. However, the secondary third-season harvest and food-aid distribution are temporarily easing the tight food supply situation.

In central Africa, the food security situation remains precarious in the Central African Republic, and food production is not expected to increase here this year because population displacements resulted in less planting, a situation compounded by seed shortages.

In northern Africa, harvesting of the subregion’s 2003 winter crops has been completed, coarse grains (maize and sorghum) are presently being harvested in Egypt and harvesting of paddy is about to start. Aggregate wheat output for the subregion has been provisionally estimated at 16.5 million tonnes, which compares with 12.1 million tonnes in 2002, when crops were severely affected by drought. In Algeria, wheat production in 2003 will be twice as high as the output in 2002, and barley production is nearly three times higher. In Egypt, wheat output increased by some 200 000 tonnes, in line with the government’s planting expansion programme, while maize production is anticipated to be about 6.5 million tonnes, over 100 000 tonnes above last year’s output. In Morocco, wheat production is tentatively estimated at 5.1 million tonnes, compared to 3.4 million tonnes harvested in 2002 and the previous five-year average of 2.9 million tonnes. Production of barley also increased from 1.7 million tonnes to 2.6 million tonnes. In Tunisia, wheat output more than tripled compared with the 2002 production level, while barley output reached a record high of 616 000 tonnes, compared to a poor 90 000 tonnes last year and a five-year average of 257 000 tonnes

In west Africa, overall crop prospects are favourable in the Sahel. Rainfall was limited in Senegal and Mauritania until late July, and then precipitation increased significantly in August over the main producing areas, replenishing soil water reserves and improving crop prospects. In Cape Verde, abundant rains fell on all agricultural islands in August. In spite of localized flooding in several regions of Burkina Faso, Chad, the Gambia, Mali and Niger, crop prospects remain generally favourable. By contrast, in Guinea-Bissau the final outcome of the season will depend on the performance of the swamp rice crop, as prospects for coarse-grain crops have been compromised by large-scale infestations of grasshoppers in northern and eastern regions. In the coastal countries along the Gulf of Guinea, the outlook for the 2003 crops is mixed. Prospects for the main season crops are uncertain in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, following extended dry weather in July. In Côte d’Ivoire, the food situation remains critical, particularly in the west and the rebel-controlled north. In Liberia, the humanitarian situation has started to improve in Monrovia, following the signing of a peace agreement in mid-August and the deployment of West African peacekeepers, but the overall security and food situations remain critical. Intensified fighting during the current season disrupted farming activities and displaced thousands of families, pointing to a further drop in rice production this year, and hence increased food aid needs.

In Asia, relatively good weather conditions, especially at the beginning of the season, and increased applications of fertilizer provided through international assistance in DPR Korea, are expected to result in an improved harvest of rice and maize. However, the country still faces a sizable food deficit. A recent FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission is finalizing its report (due out end of October). WFP was able to resume food distributions to all beneficiaries by using a government cereal loan that will be repaid upon the arrival of a maize donation from the Republic of Korea . Total cereal output in mainland China this year is expected to fall by 2.8 percent from 399 million tonnes last year to some 387 million tonnes, because fewer areas were planted and the weather conditions have been unfavourable. In Afghanistan, a record cereal harvest has just been gathered as a result of more precipitation and larger-than-average areas under cultivation. However, access to food will remain difficult for a large number of vulnerable households.

In the Near East, food supply prospects are generally favourable mainly due to the fact that harvests were good. A recent FAO/WFP crop, Food Supply and Nutrition Assessment Mission to Iraq found that this year’s good agricultural production contrasts with the enormous economic difficulties faced by the majority of the population. The effects of war and economic sanctions compounded by three years of severe drought (1999–2001) have seriously eroded the asset base of many people and led a large proportion of the population to rely on food rations for their daily subsistence. A marked improvement in the nutritional well-being of the population will require a substantial flow of resources into rehabilitation of the agriculture sector and the economy as a whole.

In the Asian CIS, aggregate cereal harvest has fallen this year by about 5 percent from the 2002 harvest. An unusually cold winter and a dry spring compromised cereal crops in parts of Kazakhstan, Georgia and Armenia, while the weather was favourable for crops in the rest of the region. Kazakhstan will remain a major cereal exporter, in particular to other CIS countries in Asia and Europe. Many of the governments in the region continue to encourage cereal production in a drive for cereal self-sufficiency at the expense of cotton, the main industrial crop in Central Asia.

In Central America and the Caribbean, the abundant rains typical of the hurricane season were reported over most of the subregion during the past few weeks, with some damage to rural housing and infrastructure. The 2003/04 first season cereal and bean crop harvest is underway in most of the countries, and average to above-average outputs of maize (the main cereal) are provisionally forecast in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Food assistance is being provided to targeted families in these countries, particularly women and children who have been seriously affected by natural disasters and recurrent economic shocks over the past few years. In Mexico, the rains have favoured the development of the important spring/summer maize crop in the central and south-central growing areas, and have helped to replenish the water reservoirs for planting 2003/04 wheat crop which will begin in October in the irrigated areas of the northwest. In Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti, average maize outputs are anticipated, particularly in the first two countries. The outlook is also favourable for secondary foodcrops, such as roots, bananas, beans and fruits which are important food staples.

In South America,the 2003 wheat crop has been planted in the southern countries and will be ready for harvesting starting in October. The general state of the crops is satisfactory, and early production forecasts indicate that average to above-average outputs will be harvested. Planting of the 2003/04 maize crop has started. In Argentina, planting intentions suggest that as many areas will be planted as in 2002/03, when some 2.4 million hectares were sown, while in Brazil the area planted to maize for the 2004 crop is also forecast as almost equal to this year’s, which produced a record crop harvest. In Uruguay and Chile, sowing of the 2004 maize crops has also started, and areas planted are expected to be average or above-average in size. In the Andean countries, the 2003/04 first-season coarse-grain crops are about to be planted in Bolivia, while in Ecuador the 2003 white maize crop has just been harvested. Despite an average out-turn, the total maize (white and yellow) harvest in 2003 has been low for the third consecutive year, mainly as the result of adverse weather conditions. In Peru, harvesting of the 2003 white maize crop is virtually complete, while that of the yellow maize crop is well advanced. An above-average aggregate maize output (white and yellow) is forecast for 2003. In Colombia, normal to abundant rains favoured development of the 2003/04 first-season crops. The harvest is almost finished and land is being prepared for planting of the second-season crops. Average outputs of maize, the main coarse grain, have tentatively been forecast for 2003. In Venezuela, the harvest of the 2003 coarse-grain crops has only just started, and early forecasts suggest below-average maize and sorghum outputs, largely as a consequence of financial constraints experienced by farmers that resulted in reduced use of fertilizers and fewer good quality seeds.

In Europe, cereal production has been considerably reduced this year by adverse weather. Harsh winter conditions hindered planting in some areas, and an exceptionally hot and dry summer reduced yields across the continent. With the bulk of the crops already gathered, aggregate cereal output in the EU is now forecast at just 190 million tonnes, 12 percent lower than last year. Among the CEECs, sharply reduced cereal outputs are also expected in virtually all countries.

In the European CIS, cereal harvesting is almost complete and the aggregate output for the region has now been estimated at about 94.3 million tonnes, nearly 34.4 million tonnes lower than last year’s harvest. The most seriously affected crop is wheat, followed by barley, both of which are nearly 25.5 million and 6.9 million tonnes less, respectively, than last year’s harvest. Unusually cold weather and thin snow cover during the winter, followed by a hot, dry spring, as well as torrential rains during the summer harvest are the main explanations for the significant decline in harvest output this year. The aggregate wheat harvest in the region has now been estimated at about 46.9 million tonnes; coarse grains, at 47.1 million tonnes. The Ukraine and Moldova are the countries that have been affected worst, and both will require significant imports to meet domestic consumption requirements. This year’s wheat production in Ukraine is 26 percent lower than last year’s level, while in Moldova and Russia it is less than 19 percent. Both the Russian Federation and Ukraine were major cereal exporters during 2002/03 marketing year. In the 2003/04 marketing year, Ukraine will be required to import significant amounts of cereals, while the Russian Federation will not be a significant player in the world cereal market. In the Baltic countries, this year’s cereal harvest will probably be similar to last year’s average-sized harvest. Cereal production in the region has been undergoing a steady decline, as industrial crops and the livestock sector increase. An unusually cold winter combined with an exceptionally dry spring and summer have compromised large areas of cereals in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia. The cereal harvest for these three countries is expected to be significantly lower than last year’s larger-than-usual harvest.

In North America, the United States wheat crop has been estimated at 62.4 million tonnes, which is 42 percent higher than last year’s low output. Winter wheat for harvesting in 2004 was sown in early September under generally favourable conditions. Although hot, dry weather in August lowered expectations somewhat for the maize and sorghum crops, the aggregate coarse grain output has also been forecast to rebound from last year’s drought-reduced level. Canada, hot and dry conditions during July and early August diminished prospects for the main 2003 cereal crops, but overall production is still expected to be higher than last year’s drought-reduced level.

In Oceania, the prospects for the developing winter grain crops in Australia have improved following widespread rains that fell on most of the main grain-growing areas. It has been estimated that 9 percent more winter grain was planted this year than in the previous season. The wheat output for 2003 has now been forecast at 24 million tonnes, more than two-and-a-half times the size of the previous season’s drought-reduced crop.

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