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Sub-Saharan Africa's cereal import requirements up from last year

Twenty out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are facing exceptional food emergencies, according to FAO's latest report on Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in the sub-region. Cereal import requirements for sub-Saharan Africa for 1998 are anticipated to be substantially higher than in 1997.

Countries in eastern Africa have been devastated by floods and torrential rains associated with the current El Niño. Roads and railways were extensively damaged disrupting movement of goods between and within countries and causing economic hardship, particularly for landlocked countries.

In Somalia, an estimated 2 000 people died and 250 000 were forced to leave their homes during the worst floods the country has seen in 30 years. Torrential rains washed crops out of the fields and grain out of the storehouses. Outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever and other insect-borne diseases are also directly attributable to the heavy rains, which cause ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes and other biting insects. The disease outbreaks triggered a ban on imports of livestock and meat by the Gulf countries where most of Somalia's exports are destined, according to the report. This will cut the country's foreign exchange earnings and reduce its capacity to import food commercially.

In Kenya the heavy rains lasted from October to February leaving many villages cut off and forcing people to leave their homes. The worst affected areas included the Coast Province, North Eastern Province and parts of the Eastern Province. Distribution of food aid in these areas continues to be hampered by impassable roads. Transport difficulties are also threatening the food security of isolated communities in Tanzania, giving rise to concern about serious food shortages in some areas.

In Ethiopia, 1997 grain production was down 25 percent from the previous year. The grain import requirement for 1998 is estimated at 530 000 tonnes for more than 5 million vulnerable people, to be covered mainly by food aid.

The food outlook for countries in Great Lakes region continues to be precarious, according to the report. Civil strife, shortage of agricultural inputs and heavy rains have all contributed to hampering agricultural activities. In Burundi food prices continue to rise and malnutrition is increasing throughout the population. In Rwanda too food prices are high and rising. Malnutrition among children under five remains at high levels and the situation is deteriorating among recent returnees.

In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where insecurity persists, the food supply situation is critical and severe malnutrition is reported. In the Republic of Congo, intense fighting forced many people to abandon their homes and a high proportion of urban dwellers fled to rural areas. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission in January 1998 found that livestock production has been hard hit by the civil strife while the country's staple food, cassava, is a hardy crop that has withstood the adverse conditions.

In Sierra Leone the food supply situation is improving in Freetown and other ECOMOG-controlled towns. However, if fighting shifts to rural areas, more people will be displaced and vital agricultural activities such as field preparation and rice planting will be interrupted. The report warns that crop production may fall unless peace is fully restored throughout the country.

Food supply difficulties are anticipated in the coming months in some Sahelian countries following reduced harvests. Although markets are generally well supplied, prices are high and rising in the affected areas. Sales at subsidized prices or food distributions will be necessary during the lean season. The governments of Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal have appealed for international aid.

In Southern Africa, fears of El Niño-induced drought have so far proved unfounded. Prospects are favourable for crops in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia but in most other countries in the sub-region more rain is needed in the coming weeks to enable crops that were planted late to reach maturity. FAO estimates Southern Africa's aggregate cereal import requirements for 1998/99 at 4.7 million tonnes, some 30 percent up from last year.

Four areas of priority action are listed in the report:

  • First - assistance is needed to repair the damaged infrastructure in eastern Africa in order to restore normal supply lines not only for this sub-region, but also for the Great Lakes region.
  • Second - increased food assistance will be needed in a number of east African countries, particularly Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and depending on the harvest outcome in the southern regions in June/July, Tanzania.
  • Third - continued food assistance is needed in Burundi, Rwanda and the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Equally important, assistance is needed for the adequate supply of essential agricultural inputs to restore and increase food production in these countries and regions.
  • Fourth - peace needs to be rapidly restored and maintained in rural Sierra Leone if food production is to be stepped up in the coming growing season, which starts in April.

28 April 1998

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