As of May 2004, the number of countries facing serious food shortages throughout the world stands at 35 with 24 in Africa, 5 in Asia, 5 in Latin America and 1 in Europe. The causes are varied but civil strife and adverse weather, including drought predominate. In many of these countries, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a major contributing factor. Recently published joint FAO/WFP crop and Food Supply Assessment reports highlighting these factors in greater detail can be found at (http://www.fao.org/giews/english/alertes/sptoc.htm").
In eastern Africa, improved first season harvests coupled with current favourable main season rains in most parts have boosted food supply prospects. However, flood damage in Kenya and Djibouti and flood warnings for southern Somalia following rising river levels over the Shabelle river basin give cause for concern.
In Eritrea, the food outlook is rather bleak mainly due to the poor performance of the "azmera" (March-May) rains which normally facilitate land preparation and replenishment of water supplies and pastures. In addition, rains that normally fall along Eritrea's eastern and coastal areas from November to February largely failed for the fourth consecutive year.
The devastating civil conflict in western Sudan (Darfur) has resulted in the displacement of over a million people, with large-scale destruction of property and assets. Access to food and other basic human needs has been severely curtailed for the affected population. With the conflict still unabated, the next planting season which is about to start is jeopardised.
In southern Africa, the 2003/04 agricultural season is drawing to a close. FAO/WFP crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions (CFSAMs) are underway in Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland. A curtailed Mission also started in Zimbabwe. Results will be finalized in June. In this sub-region the first half of the season was characterized by delayed, inadequate and erratic rains. crop prospects improved with more favourable rainfall during the second half of the season (February to April). However, intense rains during this period in parts of Zambia and Angola caused many rivers to overflow causing serious flooding in western Zambia and in downstream parts of Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, damaging crops and necessitating emergency food relief. Madagascar was hit by cyclones in January, February and March causing large-scale damage, affecting 774 000 people and some 300 000 hectares of vanilla, paddy and other crops. Harvest prospects in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and parts of Malawi and Angola are unfavourable due to dry weather conditions especially during first half of the season. Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, on the other hand, are expecting normal to above normal harvests. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is compounding food security problems in most of the countries.
The food situation in Zimbabwe is potentially critical as early estimates indicate a harvest lower than the reduced level of 2003. The food deficit in 2004/05 (April/March) could be as much as 1 million tonnes to be filled by a combination of commercial imports and food aid.
In the Great Lakes region, harvesting of the second season crops, mainly sorghum, maize and beans, will begin soon. Food production in Rwanda from the first season has been estimated at about the same level as last year. In Burundi, total production of cereals, legumes, roots/tubers and banana/plantain is estimated at 1.1 million tonnes, about 2 percent higher than the year before but still below the pre-crisis (1988-93) average. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, food insecurity and malnutrition remain serious problems due to persistent instability, particularly in the east and northeast.
In central Africa, food insecurity remains serious in the Central African Republic (CAR) for conflict-displaced populations.
In northern Africa, desert locusts continue to pose a serious threat to food security for several countries in spite of considerable control operations. crop damage is limited so far, but the situation could deteriorate if swarms move southwards to the Sahelian countries as the cropping season sets in. In spite of assistance to several countries affected in northern and western Africa, by FAO and several donors, control operations continue to be hampered by insufficient resources. However, prospects for the winter cereal crops in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia remain favourable as a result of favourable weather conditions and adequate availability of inputs.
In western Africa, seasonably dry conditions prevail in the Sahel. The desert locust situation is very serious in Mauritania, where control operations are hampered by lack of resources. Overall in the Sahel, however, the food supply situation is satisfactory, reflecting good harvests in 2003. Production was significantly above average in all countries except Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. The rainy season has started in the coastal countries along the Gulf of Guinea and planting is underway.
In Asia, harvesting of the winter cereal crops is underway or completed, while the sowing of paddy and coarse grain crops has started. Some countries experienced insufficient precipitation, but its impact on overall production is limited since winter crops are generally irrigated. Grain supply in the region has been tight with rising prices for major grains since last fall. The total sown area and output for cereals in Mainland China have declined by more than 15 and 17 percent, respectively, from 1998 to 2003. However, the rice area is expected to increase in 2004 due to government policies. In India, the 2004 wheat area and output are estimated well above last year and five-year average. India is the second largest producer of wheat after China.
A serious humanitarian crisis persists in DPR Korea due to chronic food shortages and the recent disastrous train explosion. With the recent arrival of donated maize and wheat, all but 600 000 core beneficiaries received their WFP full cereal rations in April. New pledges of about 123 000 tonnes of mixed commodities are urgently required to cover needs over the next six months.
Mongolia continues to depend on international food assistance due to natural disasters and economic constraints despite a better winter in 2003/04. In Timor-Leste, harvests of major crops are estimated to increase significantly over the drought-affected crops last year due to more favourable weather. Drought in Sri Lanka during Maha season, especially in the districts of Kurunegala, Anuradhapura and Puttalam, resulted in significantly reduced paddy production and thousands of families are in need of food assistance.
In Afghanistan, unusually warm weather during spring and late winter with consequent early snow-melt has somewhat dampened hopes of matching last year’s record harvest.
In the Near East, security problems in Iraq and the subsequent evacuation of most international NGO staff from the south and centre have adversely affected humanitarian assistance programmes.
In the Asian CIS, weather conditions have been generally favourable to crop production and cereal crops are reportedly in good condition. A total of about 19 million hectares have been planted with cereals. Late spring and summer precipitation and air temperatures will be critical for crop production in the region. Assuming favourable weather conditions and adequate flow of water in the main rivers of the region, aggregate cereal harvest is tentatively forecast at more than 28 million tonnes.
In Central America and the Caribbean, torrential rain and severe flooding in Haiti and Dominican Republic have caused loss of life and damage to property and assets. Harvesting of the third apante cereal and bean crops has been completed and planting of 2004/05 first (main) season crops has started. Aggregate cereal output in 2003/04 is estimated at 36.4 million tonnes, about 1.0 million tonnes above the last five years average, particularly due to good harvests in Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua. Early forecast for 2004/05 points to a reduction in cereal production, mainly due to the unfavourable prospects for wheat in Mexico. The coffee sector, the principal foreign exchange earner, is still suffering from declining international prices. Food assistance continues to be provided to vulnerable rural groups in Central American countries. In Haiti, the international community has resumed delivery of food assistance, especially to the North West Department that was seriously affected by drought in March.
In South America,harvest of the 2003/04 maize crop is underway. In Argentina, maize production is expected to significantly decrease due to dry weather conditions at sowing. In Brazil drought is also affecting the winter "safrinha" maize crops in southern states and the summer maize crop in centre-south states. Wheat planting in southern and central parts of South America is about to start and planting intentions point to an area increase of 3 percent. In Uruguay, harvesting of paddy is underway and production is estimated at a record 1.3 million tonnes. In Peru and Ecuador, dry weather conditions in the first months of 2004 severely affected paddy and maize crops.
In Europe, weather conditions for the 2004 cereal crops remain generally favourable across the region. Cereal output in the EU-25 is forecast to increase substantially from last year, with significant improvements seen in both the EU-15 countries and the 10 new member countries in central Europe. Planted areas have increased and better yields are expected reflecting generally adequate moisture availability this season so far. Larger crops are also forecast in the Balkan countries in the southeast of the region reflecting generally favourable weather after drought in the previous year.
In the European CIS, March and April frost has damaged nearly three million hectares of cereals, mainly in the Russian Federation and the Ukraine. In addition, lack of access to sufficient farm inputs prevented many farmers in the two large producing countries to reach the high areas planted in 2001 and 2002. An aggregate of about 61 million hectares of cereals have been planted in the region. Provided that favourable weather conditions prevail during late spring and summer, aggregate cereal harvest in the region is tentatively forecast at about 115 million tonnes. This includes some 59 million tonnes of wheat and about 55 million tonnes of coarse grains.
In North America, wheat production in the United States is set to fall sharply by 11 percent from last year to 56.6 million tonnes after a significant decline in winter plantings and the prospect of a reduced spring wheat area also. In addition, weather conditions have been generally less favourable during the current season, especially in southern producing regions where dryness prevails and the yield potential of crops has suffered as a result. Conditions in the past month have, however, favoured the summer coarse grain planting prompting a significant increase in the production forecast for 2004 to 284.3 million tonnes, 3 percent above the previous year’s crop and almost 8 percent above the average of the past five years. In Canada, as of 10 May, overall seeding progress of the major 2004 cereal crops was estimated at 26 percent complete, slightly ahead of the normal 20 percent for the corresponding date. The overall area sown to cereals is expected to decrease in 2004 because of a shift of land into non-cereal crops. Output of wheat is nevertheless forecast to increase slightly because of higher yields expected for durum, while production of coarse grains is expected to decrease marginally.
In Oceania, after a satisfactory start to the winter crop planting season earlier this year, a return to drier conditions in late April and early May, especially in the eastern regions, dampened hopes of a bumper output this year. Farmers in south-eastern Australia are delaying planting in the hope that more rain will arrive before the end of the acceptable planting period in June.