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Tajikistan faces serious food crisis

Tajikistan is caught in the grips of a severe drought, considered by many to be the worst in over 70 years. A recent FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Tajikistan found that nearly half its population, over 3 million people, are facing hunger and malnutrition due to drought, combined with a breakdown of irrigation systems, economic problems and a legacy of civil conflicts.

Click on image to see larger map and rainfall figures for 2000


Cereal production down by nearly half

The mission's report states that the country's winter and spring rainfed wheat crops, normally harvested in June and July, have failed almost completely due to the drought. In addition, water shortages and the poor condition of the country's irrigation systems have led to uneven cereal harvests from irrigated fields.

Tajikistan's total cereal production is estimated at only 236 000 tonnes - down nearly 50 percent from last year. This marks the third consecutive year cereal production has declined, but this year's drop is by far the largest. Domestic production can cover the country's cereal requirements for only three months.

A food shortage with "disastrous implications"

To meet the population's needs, Tajikistan needs to import 787 000 tonnes of cereals. However, commercial imports are unlikely to exceed 400 000 tonnes At the moment, international food aid pledges total 74 000 tonnes, which leaves the country facing a shortfall of 313 000 tonnes. The FAO/WFP report warns that "a shortfall of this magnitude for this impoverished country, if not addressed by the international community, could have disastrous implications for the population." The report makes it clear that there is a very real possibility of hunger related deaths if action is not taken.

There is also an urgent need for seed for the next winter wheat planting season, which begins in October/November.

Poverty deepens the food crisis

The World Bank estimates that 85 per cent of Tajikistan's population lives below the poverty line. The FAO/WFP report states that "many households have exhausted their coping capabilities; often they have absolutely no alternative sources of income to make up for the loss of harvest." The mission found that many farm families are planning to sell off livestock to deal with food shortages. Many men are making plans to move to Russia in a desperate search for jobs to support their families.

Long-term assistance needed

Tajikistan needs more than just food aid to weather the current crisis. To free itself from the threat of food shortages, the country requires medium to long-term assistance to improve agricultural production. The report stresses the importance of establishing a programme for the production and distribution of quality seeds for wheat and other cereals. The country's irrigation system, which has fallen into disrepair since the breakup of the former USSR, is also in desperate need of maintenance and upgrading. In addition, the Government needs to quicken the pace of land reform in order to expand private farming and eliminate doubts regarding land ownership.

8 August 2000

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