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GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

15 July 2008

East Africa/Horn: Unfavourable Prospects for 2008 Cereal Crops in Several Countries. Concern over a worsening of food insecurity for millions affected by high food prices



Harvesting of the 2008 main season cereal crops is underway or due to start soon in Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. In Ethiopia the harvest of the secondary "belg" crop is in progress. Although the important March-May rains improved towards the end of the period, cumulative totals remain below normal in large areas of Ethiopia, Somalia, parts of western Kenya and in the Karamoja region of Uganda. Thus, crop prospects in these countries remain generally poor.

In Somalia, the main Gu cereal crop, due for harvest from next month, is largely anticipated to be a failure as a result of a late start and poor performance of the rains in most parts of the country. Crops in many southern areas had already wilted and dried by the end of May and although light rains in early June led to a replenishment of water resources, they arrived too late to benefit the crop. Recent heavy rains have caused some flooding in Mogadishu. Dry conditions have prevailed also in the central pastoral regions of Galagadud and Hiran as well as in several pastoral areas of the north. Crop conditions are extremely poor in both sorghum and maize areas and the vegetation index for maize in Lower Shabelle at this time of the year is the lowest recorded over the last ten years.

The failure of the 2008 Gu crop, which follows two below-average seasons (Gu 2007 and Deyr 2007/08), has resulted in a critical food supply position. The humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating due to a combination of increasing food prices, a significant devaluation of the Somali Shilling, disruption of internal markets and internal trade, and mounting civil insecurity. Overall, sorghum prices have increased in the Sorghum Belt by more than 60 percent since January 2008. In April, the highest sorghum prices were in Beletweyne market (SOS 7 500 per kg) and Hudur (SOS 7 250 per kg). The lowest prices were reported in Bardera and Baidoa where sorghum was quoted SOS 3 600 per kg and SOS 5 150 per kg, respectively.

Currently, 2.6 million people are estimated to be in need of assistance about one-third of the total population - an increase of more than 40 percent since January 2008. The number of internally displaced people is estimated at 1.1 million. Population movement from the capital increased by 20 percent since January 2008 bringing the number of people who have fled Mogadishu since February 2007 to a total of 860 000. According to the FSAU (Food Security Analysis Unit) the humanitarian situation is likely to continue to deteriorate in the coming months and a total of 3.5 million people, about half of the total population, could be in need of either livelihood support or humanitarian assistance by the end of the year.

In Eritrea, sowings are underway for the "Kiremti" cereal crops due for harvest from November. The Ministry of Agriculture of Eritrea has recently indicated that the necessary preparations were put in place to cultivate over 578 000 ha in the current season, up nearly 20 percent over last year, through employing heavy machineries. So far, the vegetation Index (NDVI) is low in North Red Sea region reflecting below-average rains during the first months of 2008. In the central highlands growing conditions are reported normal following adequate rainfall.

Overall, despite significant increases in the last few years, cereal production in Eritrea is inadequate to cover domestic requirements and large quantities of cereals need to be imported. Food prices in the Asmara market have been on an upward trend since July 2007, with serious implications for a large number of vulnerable people. For instance, in Asmara the retail price for wheat flour in May 2008, quoted at ERN 3 700 per 100 kg, was almost 9 percent higher than the previous month and more than double the price in May 2007. Similarly, the retail price of maize and sorghum reached ERN 2 700 and ERN 2 000 per 100 kg respectively in May 2008, nearly double that of a year ago.

In Ethiopia, notwithstanding moderate rains in May, the cumulative total for the March to May season was below normal, resulting in drought conditions across an extensive area of the country, including the secondary "belg" crop producing areas. As a result, the output from the secondary crop, now being harvested, is expected to be severely reduced compared to the bumper harvests of the last few years. Decreased water availability is reported in several regions with Afar, Somali and the lowlands of Oromiya the most severely affected. By contrast, western Ethiopia has experienced abundant and well distributed rains since the season started in late March. The May rains were beneficial for the growing of the early sown main "meher" crop, the output of which, however, will largely depend on weather conditions in the next several weeks.

Grain prices continued to increase in early 2008 after weakening slightly at the end of 2007. The price of wheat in Addis Ababa increased to ETB 437 per quintal in April 2008 compared with ETB 314 per quintal a year earlier, a 39 percent increase. Mixed teff in the same market was quoted in April at ETB 585 per quintal compared to ETB 446 per quintal a year earlier, a 32 percent increase. Maize prices, quoted at ETB 324 per quintal in April 2008 were more than double those of the same period in 2007. With prevailing high prices, poor households are expected to find it more difficult to secure access to adequate food supplies. In an effort to reduce the impact of 20 percent inflation on poor people, the Government decided to cancel the value-added and turnover taxes on food grains and flour - which constitute more than half of the country’s food consumption - as well as all types of tax imposed on cooking oil, and surtax on soap. The Government has also set up measures which include provision of direct and indirect subsidies, and has spent ETB 372 million (USD 38 million) to subsidise wheat and ETB 3.52 billion (USD 366 million) to subsidise fuel. The current monthly distribution of 25 kg of wheat for low-income urban dwellers, introduced in March 2007, will be maintained as well as distribution of edible oil and other products.

Recently, the Government and humanitarian partners estimated a revised requirement of some 510 000 tonnes of cereals to meet emergency food assistance needs for 4.6 million people until November 2008. This estimate of the number of people in need represents an increase of 2.6 million people compared to the April 2008 estimate. Moreover, this figure could increase further as an additional 8 million people remain chronically food insecure. Out of a total requirement of 598 000 tonnes, only about 130 000 tonnes, or 30 percent, are available or have been pledged. Thus, to avoid a further worsening of the food supply position of the affected people, there is an immediate need for contributions to the food aid pipeline. WFP has announced that, due to funding shortfalls, it has been forced to reduce food assistance to tens of thousands beneficiaries in drought-affected areas and that, without new contributions, may not be able to fully respond to the increasing food aid requirements resulting from the drought.

In Kenya, below-average March to May rains in Northern Rift Valley and North-western provinces have further reduced water availability, which was already inadequate as a result of a poor October-December 2007 season. Maize output in the key grain-producing districts in the North Rift region like Trans-Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and Lugari is expected to be drastically reduced. In addition to the displacement of farmers and irregular weather patterns, the factors behind the decline in production include rising fuel and agricultural inputs prices and high cost of labour. Following adequate rains in the bimodal areas of South Rift and western Kenya, the maize crop is reported in good condition and a few farmers in some of the early planted areas the South Rift Valley, have reported the harvesting of green/fresh maize suggesting that harvesting in these areas could start timely in August. The Ministry of Agriculture has estimated the long rains production of maize this year at 2.16 million tonnes, about 20 percent lower than in previous year and 15 percent below the recent average. In an effort to increase cereal production the Government has initiated a number of projects which include diversification of crops, intervention in the input supply with provision of fertilizers, seeds, tractors for hire and a credit facility for the farmers. Reflecting the sharply reduced maize crop in the key maize-producing districts in the North Rift region, the price of maize in the Nairobi market - which fluctuated between USD 199 per tonne and USD 222 per tonne in the period May 2007 and January 2008 had increased to USD 387 per tonne by May 2008.

In northern Kenya, high prices for cereals and other essential goods, animal diseases like Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) currently widespread in northern areas, have minimized the extent to which pastoralists can benefit from recent good rains, have undermined their recovery from drought, and increased their food insecurity. Overall the food security situation is likely to deteriorate due to drought, food production losses due to animal and crop diseases, increasing prices for food and agricultural inputs, as well as disruption of markets. More than 500 000 people affected by post-election violence, including 113 000 IDPs settled in 134 camps, as well as about 230 000 IDPs in Mount Elgon districts will continue to require humanitarian and recovery assistance in coming months. A steady influx of refugees from Somalia is reported in the north-eastern province.

In Sudan, the output from the irrigated wheat crop harvested earlier in the year is estimated at 587 000 tonnes, above the 5-year average but 16 percent below the bumper 2007 crop. Planting of the 2008 coarse grain crops, mainly sorghum and millet has started. The availability of agricultural inputs is reported as normal to above-normal. Rains from July to September will be crucial for the establishment and development of the crops, the bulk of which are due for harvest from November.

The wholesale price of sorghum in Khartoum, which fluctuated between SDG 40 and SDG 47 per 90 kg bag in the period November 2007 and February 2008, had increased to SDG 82 per 90 kg bag by April. Wheat prices, at around SDG 100 per 90 kg bag in the October to December period, reached SDG 140 per 90 kg bag in April.

Households in the eastern parts of southern Sudan are currently highly food insecure due to food shortages as a result of crop losses after last year’s early and above-normal flooding. These shortages are compounded by the isolation from markets, due to inadequate or lack of roads, and insecurity. Food supply position in Rubkina and Ruweng could deteriorate in the coming months due to an escalation of the conflict over the border between northern and southern Sudan that started in December 2007. The estimated 50 000 people internally displaced, as a result of the civil unrest in May in Abyei, are expected to return to their homes in the next few weeks. In the north, displacement and loss of livelihoods are expected to continue in Darfur where an additional 180 000 people have been displaced in the first five months of this year. Limited humanitarian access due to security restrictions, overcrowding in camps, limited water resources and a poor cereal harvest, would likely lead to increased hardship for the vulnerable people.

In the United Republic of Tanzania, harvesting of the main coarse grain crops, mostly maize, will be completed next month. Reflecting normal rains, the output is expected to be up from last year and above the 5-year average. Paddy production is likely to be marginally higher than last year’s crop of 1.4 million tonnes. The good harvest is expected to meet national food requirements and result in a decline of wholesale cereal prices as already reported from Mbeya District.

Reflecting a government export ban on agricultural commodities, imports of large quantities of maize, and favourable prospects for the maize crop now being harvested, wholesale prices in Dar-es-Salaam declined over the past months, the May price, at USD 289 per tonne, was USD 46 below the peak reached in January.

In Uganda, harvesting of the main coarse grain crops is underway. Normal rains in most of the country’s growing areas suggest normal crop and livestock production. By contrast, below-normal rains in the Karamoja region will result in poor outputs for the second consecutive year.

In spite of a normal crop forecast the price of maize had risen to USD 370 per tonne in May, some USD 200 per tonne more than just four months earlier in January. The food problem in the north-eastern Karamoja district is likely to continue. It is estimated that more than 700 000 people are food insecure and in need of emergency food aid as a result of flood damage in 2007, prolonged insecurity, inadequate rains for the last three years, falling livestock prices, and a severe attack of honeydew on sorghum. The Government has provided some farm implements and seeds to farmers, but the population still needs food relief to bridge supplies up to the next harvest. Adequate food stocks and market supplies are ensuring constant food security in other bimodal areas of the country.