No.3  October 2006  
   Crop Prospects and Food Situation

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Food Emergencies Update

Global cereal supply and demand brief

Low-Income Food-Deficit country food situation overview

Regional reviews

Special features

Statistical appendix

Terminology and notes

Special features

Localized Drought and Civil Conflict in Afghanistan


Afghanistan has suffered localized drought in the north and north-west in the current season. Crops in other areas also received reduced precipitation. Rainfed cereal crop losses have varied from 100 to 50 percent, mainly north of the Hindu Kush mountains where production normally accounts for 18 percent of the total harvest. In addition, some 5 percent of the irrigated crops have been affected by pests and diseases, mainly sunn-pest and locusts.

The aggregate cereal output in 2006 is now estimated at about 3.8 million tonnes, some 1.3 million tonnes down on last year’s harvest. Output of wheat, the staple cereal crop, has dropped by 1 million tonnes compared with last year’s harvest of 4.2 million tonnes. However, this year’s cereal harvest is still higher than average annual production for the past 15 years, estimated at 3.3 million tonnes.

Water tables in parts of the country have receded and people are reportedly leaving areas where crops have been significantly damaged in search of food and water. The situation could deteriorate during the winter, when households traditionally rely on food from the summer harvests. Targeted food assistance will, therefore, be necessary to ward off starvation and mass out-migration.

Why does a relatively small decrease in production have such a large impact?


In spite of efforts by the government and the international community, critical issues remain:

1. Deteriorating security:
This significantly impacts food security; one phenomenon feeds on the other in a vicious circle.

2. Coping mechanisms and strategies have been exhausted:
Many years of conflict and severe drought in the recent past have eroded most assets and reserves.

3. Limited or no alternative sources of livelihoods:
Even a small decrease in agricultural production has significant impact since households lack alternatives to meet their consumption requirements.

4. Limited irrigation:
Current irrigation infrastructure is inadequate. Systems from the 1960s have suffered from half a century of civil conflict and neglect.

5. Livestock:
Traditionally an important source of nutrition and income, but the national herd stands at half the size of 1989 levels. The recent Avian Influenza outbreak has also had a significant impact on the nascent poultry sector.

6. Infrastructure:
Most of the rural and provincial roads, bridges, schools, clinics and houses are in a state of ruin. Access to markets and other services remains difficult for the majority of rural population, many of whom are cut off for a few months each winter.

7. Public services:
Most of the social services traditionally provided by the public sector are extremely limited or non-existent, further eroding the coping capacity of the population.

8. Social capital:
The erosion of historically strong social capital and support mechanisms, following prolonged years of conflict, has also limited coping strategies.

Avian Influenza (AI) in Afghanistan


Afghanistan has some of the poorest social, economic and health indicators in the world, as a result of a quarter-century of devastating civil strife and half a decade of equally devastating drought.

As of March 2006 the FAO had detected some 26 confirmed cases of H5N1 virus among sampled chickens in four provinces. The country is highly susceptible to AI infections because live birds, both mature and day-old chicks, are imported from neighbouring countries, in particular Pakistan where a number of AI outbreak have been reported. Afghanistan also lies on three major wild bird routes, namely the Central Asian flyway, the Black Sea-Mediterranean fly way and the East Africa-West Asia flyway. Some countries along these flyways have already been infected with H5N1, which could then spread to Afghanistan via bird seasonal migration. However, national facilities and capacities to detect, control, and mitigate any outbreaks of communicable disease, including HPAI are woefully inadequate.

The AI outbreak in Afghanistan is particularly of concern for the following reasons:

1. Financial/Economic loss and distributional impact:
The size of the poultry sector in Afghanistan is low by all accounts and its overall nutritional contribution to the diet is relatively insignificant. However, about 98 percent of the poultry sector is owned and managed by women, whose access to other sources of livelihoods is extremely limited. An AI outbreak would deprive women of perhaps the only source of livelihood, which they fully own and manage. In addition, many rural households have little or no land, and poultry is an important source of income and supplementary nutrition for critical lean months of the year. There is little scope for switching to other kinds of livestock providing alternative sources of meat or income. Severe AI outbreaks would, therefore, directly affect the most vulnerable, highly malnourished and food insecure population (recently estimated at 8 million or over one-third of total population).

2. Gender impact of a human epidemic:
Since women and children are the main managers of virtually all poultry in the country, they will also be the first victims of an epidemic. Given the lack of adequate information, sanitation and awareness, and a poorly equipped and dilapidated public health system, the spread of the disease and high casualties would be a likely consequence. The limited health personnel includes very few women, particularly in the rural areas, while local traditions usually prohibit attendance to female patients by male medical personnel. This would increase the impact of an epidemic on women yet further, even if some medical assistance could be provided.

3. Spread of AI across international borders:
since Afghanistan lies on three major wild-bird flyways with important sanctuaries, any outbreak will spread the disease far beyond its national borders through seasonal wild-bird migrations. Targeting the disease at its source will, therefore, not only prevent a national catastrophe, but also lower the risk of cross-border virus dissemination.

The expansion of soybean frontier and its impact on food security in Paraguay


The gradual expansion of large-scale soybean cropping in Paraguay, into new lands, raises some concerns about the impact on the economy of the small peasants that are progressively displaced by the movement of the crop frontier. After selling or renting their land, small peasants are often induced to migrate toward urban areas in search of job opportunities, increasing the level of poverty and reducing their level of food security.

Paraguay has two main ecological regions, separated by the Paraguay River: the Occidental Region called “Chaco”, which represents above 60 percent of the national territory but has only 3 percent of the national population (mostly indigenous), is characterized by semi-arid weather conditions and where the principal economic activity is livestock; and the Oriental Region, with a sub-tropical humid climate, where most of the country’s economic and social dynamic takes place. The economy of the Oriental Region is influenced by the presence of the strong and dynamic soybean sector, which accounts for almost 40 percent of national agricultural output and about 65 percent of total agricultural exports (including soybean grains, flour, cakes and oils).

Traditional soybean growing areas are the oriental departments of Alto Paraná, Itapuá and Canindeyú, with more than 80 percent of the national production and planted area. The soybean crop was introduced to these areas in the 1970s by Brazilian settlers that moved into the country bringing the crop with them from the traditional growing states of Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná and Santa Catarina. During the last 15 years, following the increasing international demand of soybean and the availability of new genetically modified varieties, soybean production has experienced a spectacular increase (see Table 11) and the frontier of the soybean cultivated area is quickly moving westward, into the departments of Caazapá, San Pedro and Caaguazú in the centre of the Paraguayan territory.

Table 11. Planted area with soybean crop in Paraguay (ha)

Departments 1991 2005 Variation (%)
Alto Paraná228 504710 100311
Itapúa210 523 479 225228
Canindeyú49 030329 740673
Caaguazú21 799158 020725
Caazapá8 931112 7201 264
San Pedro17 36775 850437
Total 536 154 1 865 655 340

Source: Ministry of Agriculture.

The initial introduction of soybean in the 1970s and 1980s occupied land cleared from the native rainforest of the Paraná River basin, and made suitable for the highly mechanized production system. Given that the deforestation process has now virtually reached its conclusion, with only about 7 per cent of the Paraguay’s Interior Atlantic Forest left, the pressure to expand further the soybean area is now exerted on other areas such as the extensive pasture land in north-eastern departments and the small peasantry systems in central and south-eastern departments.

In north-eastern departments of Amambay and Concepción and in north-east San Pedro, all traditional livestock areas, the acquisition of land by soybean farmers is determining changes in the local production system, where the typical extensive livestock system is gradually becoming more intensive on a reduced area. This trend is directly influenced by the competitiveness of meat and meat products vis-à-vis soybean.

More worrisome in terms of food security seems to be the soybean expansion in central areas of the Paraguayan territory. These areas are characterized by fragile agricultural systems resulting from a process of land reform and colonization, the so-called “March toward the East”, that took place in the 1970s with the purpose to reduce the demographic pressure in and around the capital city. Here, small peasants essentially produce food crops for their own consumption (maize, sweet potatoes, peanuts and cassava) and some cash crops such as cotton and sesame to be sold in local markets.
In the departments of San Pedro, Caaguazú, Caazapá and lowland Canindeyú, small peasants living along the soybean frontier are often offered very high prices for selling or renting their land, especially by farmers of Brazilian origin with abundant financial resources. Land price differential between Paraguay and Brazil has always been an important driving factor of the colonization of the Eastern Region by Brazilian settlers, especially in the 1970s and 1980s when it almost reached the record ratio of 10:1. Another factor that frequently induces small peasants to sell their land is the contamination of food crops, water and air due to the agrochemical drift of fumigations on nearby soybean fields.

The limited job opportunities offered by the expanding soybean sector, due to its high level of mechanization, and the difficulties for small peasants to buy new land in order to continue to produce some food crops are the main reasons behind the process of migration from rural areas. In some cases, the new landless peasants settle down along the main paved roads, close to the area of origin, where it is possible to establish some small economic activities that take advantage of the passage of people and vehicles. Nevertheless, they decide more frequently to move to urban areas, with a preference for the capital city, looking for better job opportunities. Here their expectations are often not realized and they have to face a reality of unemployment and social marginalization, with increasing levels of poverty and malnutrition.

El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)


El Niño is a large-scale substantial warming of surface waters in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific Ocean, coupled with changes in the atmosphere that affect weather patterns across much of the Pacific Basin. These changes include: i) a negative value of the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), ii) the sustained weakening of Trade winds and iii) increased cloudiness over the tropical Pacific. El Niño is the oceanic component, while the Southern Oscillation is the atmospheric one. This combination gives rise to the term ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation). El Niño is an irregular event appearing every 2 to 7 years, with different intensity and duration and usually peaks around Christmas, hence the name of the phenomenon: El Niño (Spanish for Christ Child). Maximum strength is usually maintained until February. Important changes in temperatures and precipitation patterns are often noticed during El Niño, having a positive or negative impact on agriculture.
The overall changes in the ocean surface temperatures caused by El Niño also affect marine fisheries, particularly in the eastern Pacific.
However, the particular character of the impact differs quite markedly from one event to another, even with similar changes and patterns in the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, no precise quantitative association between the occurrence of El Niño and changes in agricultural production has been established and it is difficult to forecast the impact of El Niño. The impact on agriculture will decisively depend on the relative timing of the El Niño and the crop calendar in a particular region. La Niña refers to the "cold" equivalent of El Niño.

The oldest El Niño recorded dates back to 1578, when torrential rains and floods devastated crops in northern Peru. During the past forty years, ten of these major El Niño events have been verified. El Niño event in 1982/83 resulted in severe flooding and drought in several parts of the world, as well as the decline of a number of fish stocks, and reportedly caused over US$10 billion in weather-related damages. In 1991/92 El Niño resulted in a severe drought in Southern Africa. The last strong El Niño occurred in 1997/98, with drought and floods in several areas of South America and South-East Asia that had severe adverse effects on agricultural production and infrastructure.

This year, since the beginning of August, indicators consistent with the development phase of an El Niño phenomenon have been observed. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) have risen through much of the equatorial Pacific and by mid-September had met the El Niño thresholds for this time of year in the eastern-central Pacific, although these anomalies are at the weak end of what is commonly observed during an El Niño event. It is worth also to note, that the actual criteria for El Niño conditions includes the provision that the SST anomalies remain at or above these levels for at least three months.
A further increase in SST is predicted following a raise in sub-surface temperatures as a result of a Kelvin Wave of increased temperatures in the eastern Pacific, which is currently moving towards the South American coast. Regarding other factors contributing to an El Niño-ENSO event in the eastern Pacific, sustained negative values of the SOI were observed in late August, but they are currently trending back to neutral. Similarly, after being much weaker than normal for nearly a month, the Trade winds have strengthened since early September being near-normal in the second half of September. Cloudiness along the equatorial line in the central to west Pacific, another important indicator of ENSO conditions, has been increasing since late May to above average levels.

Overall, conditions in the tropical Pacific are currently indicative of the development of a weak El Niño event. Based on the latest observations, computer models indicate that there is 55 to 60 percent probability that weak El Niño conditions will prevail throughout early 2007 (see Figure 8). Although a strong El Niño phenomenon is not forecast at this early stage, and the associated climatic effects in most regions are expected to be weak, these may be, nonetheless, significant at local level. Some impact of the developing El Niño conditions is already evident, such as the below-average rainfall in southern Australia, across Indonesia, Malaysia and most of the Philippines.

FAO will keep closely monitoring weather anomalies and assessing possible effects these may have on agricultural production and food security in various parts of the world in order to provide early warnings and to enable mitigating actions.

Crop Prospects and Food Situation





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