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No drought so far in southern Africa, but cereal import requirements are forecast to rise 30 percent

FAO and WFP have expressed "guarded optimism" over southern Africa's current cereal crops, although there are nearly two months to go until harvest time. Fears that the current El Niño would bring severe drought to the sub-region have so far proved unfounded.

"As of March 1998, crop growing conditions have been generally favourable in most parts, with normal to above normal rainfall received since October," according to a Special Report issued by the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

Despite this, the sub-region's cereal output will probably be down some 8 percent from 1997's good harvest, according to the report. This drop is mainly due to farmers reducing plantings in many countries, because of drought warnings, and to irregular rains in some areas. Assuming that weather conditions remain normal for the rest of the season, cereal production in the southern African countries is forecast at 19.8 million tonnes and import requirements for the 1998/99 marketing year at 4.7 million tonnes, some 30 percent more than last year.

The major impact of a deterioration in weather conditions on food supply in the sub-region would be a substantial reduction of exportable surpluses from South Africa and Zimbabwe to needy countries, according to the report. Lesotho - where rainfall from September to December 1997 was particularly erratic - is likely to be the most severely affected country. Heavy crop losses are also feared for the island of Madagascar, where a locust infestation is threatening the staple rice crop.

The drop in production and the limited import capacity of several countries in the sub-region - where eight out of 12 countries are low-income food-deficit (LIFDCs) - make it likely that food aid requirements for the sub-region in 1998/99 will increase over last year's level.

2 April 1998

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