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Serious food shortages persist in sub-Saharan Africa

The number of people facing severe food shortages is now estimated at 28 million, of whom 18 million, or 64 percent, are in eastern Africa, warns the latest issue of FAO's "Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa". The report, published three times a year, is prepared by the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

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"Continued food assistance is necessary in all countries of eastern Africa and the Great Lakes region as well as in Angola, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone," says the report. In total, 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa face exceptional food emergencies (for a list of the countries, click on the graphics).

Drought, heavy rain and civil strife
Throughout the continent natural disasters and civil conflicts are the principal causes of the food shortages.

In Kenya, last year's severe drought seriously undermined the food security of nearly 4.4 million people and resulted in a massive relief operation. Despite some improvement, the food supply situation is still precarious.

In parts of Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, severe floods have disrupted the lives of about 960 000 people. The disruption includes damage to infrastructure and housing as well as crop losses.

In Eritrea, more than 1.8 million people -- nearly half the total population -- have been displaced by the war with Ethiopia or affected by drought. "The outlook for the 2001 agricultural season, starting in the next few weeks, is bleak, as farmers have not returned to their farms so far and large tracts of land are still inaccessible due to landmines," says the report. In Ethiopia, despite improved overall food availability, 6.5 million people affected by successive droughts and the fighting with Eritrea depend on food aid.

In the Great Lakes region, the food supply situation remains precarious. The report calls the food outlook in the Democratic Republic of Congo "bleak" and says that food assistance is still needed. The country has 2 million internally displaced people and an additional 333 000 refugees, mainly from Angola. The number of refugees keeps rising as fighting continues to flare up in both countries, bringing serious nutritional and health consequences. An outbreak of cassava mosaic virus has seriously reduced the cassava harvest, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This has further aggravated the food problems. According to the report, food assistance is also needed elsewhere in the Great Lakes region, including Burundi and Rwanda.


FAO's Special Relief Operations

FAO appeals for emergency assistance


Falling harvests
The report forecasts a sharp fall in cereal production for 2001 in southern Africa, mainly due to a prolonged mid-season dry spell and subsequent heavy rains that damaged food crops in most countries. The FAO March forecast for the maize crop, which accounts for 75 percent of cereal production in southern Africa, points to a decrease of 27 percent compared to last year.

In the Sahel, reduced harvests have tightened the food situation, notably in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger. Food distributions to the affected populations are under way and the governments have appealed to donors for assistance. Despite some improvement in food production, Liberia and Sierra Leone remain heavily dependent on international food aid. Guinea is faced with rebel attacks in border areas, which are hindering agricultural production and have displaced people.

In a bit of good news, Somalia has seen satisfactory primary and secondary harvests. "Consequently, the number of people in need of food assistance has declined from 750 000 in 2000 to 500 000 this year," the report states. However, recent nutrition surveys indicate persistent high malnutrition rates in the country, reflecting slow household recovery from a succession of droughts and the long-term effects of years of insecurity.

The report projects that sub-Saharan Africa's overall cereal import requirements will remain high in 2001, mainly reflecting the effects of last year's drought in eastern Africa, reduced harvests in parts of the Sahel and an expectedly sharp drop in production in southern Africa.

09 April 2001

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©FAO, 2001