ROME, 16 August 2002 -- Some 6 million people in Afghanistan will remain highly vulnerable to food insecurity and will continue to need relief food assistance over the next year, two UN agencies warned in a joint report released today. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme report says that overall cereal production in Afghanistan has staged a recovery in 2002 despite military and political upheavals that coincided with the planting season and a serious locust outbreak in some parts of the country.

"Despite the recovery in this year's agricultural production and the renewed sense of hope, millions of Afghans, particularly pastoralist Kuchis, have little or no access to food due to serious erosion of their purchasing power and/or loss of productive assets." according to the report. "Effects of successive years of drought, deteriorating irrigation and other infrastructure, inability of farmers to access necessary agricultural inputs, lack of employment within and outside agriculture, and a vicious rural indebtedness among others, render a timely and effective intervention all the more essential."

Besides urging the continuation of food distributions, the report calls for sustained investment in the agricultural sector, particularly the rehabilitation, upgrading and maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure to ensure a speedy recovery of the Afghan economy.

Total cereal production in Afghanistan is estimated at about 3.5 million tonnes for 2002, that is 82 percent above last year's drought affected crop, but still about 4 percent below the harvest of 1998. As a result, the report says Afghanistan will need to import about 1.4 million tonnes of cereal during the 2002/03 marketing year that runs from July to June. Commercial imports are estimated at 911,000 tonnes, about the same as the average level of the previous three years, according to the report. Some 219,000 tonnes of emergency food aid has been pledged, or is already in the pipeline, leaving an uncovered gap of 249,000 tonnes.

The report says that the previous three years of drought have had a devastating effect on range vegetation, as well as on the availability of feed from grain and crop residues, especially in rainfed areas. As a result, there has been widespread devastation of livestock production with animal numbers declining by as much as 60 percent since 1998, and most dramatically following the massive deaths and distress selling of animals during the summer and autumn of last year.

Currently, domestic sales of livestock are reported to have dropped by about 50 percent, while animal prices increased by at least 30 percent throughout the country over the last year. This has led to a scarcity of meat, draught animals and breeding stock, which prompted imports of large ruminants and poultry from neighbouring countries. The imports pose serious health risks for the surviving Afghan livestock, because they are imported without quarantine. The report calls for urgent and appropriate veterinary and control measures to prevent the spread of animal diseases from neighboring countries into Afghanistan which could further exacerbate the problems facing livestock production.