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Food insecurity strains deepen amid civil conflict and drought

FAO report notes heavy toll of disrupted farming, higher prices and displaced livelihoods

Photo: :©FAO/Chedly Kayouli
A homestead in Al Hudaydah, once an important food-producing part of Yemen and now at risk of famine.

8 June 2017, Rome--Large agricultural harvests in some regions of the world are buoying global food supply conditions, but protracted fighting and unrest are increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry elsewhere, according to the new edition of FAO's Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

Some 37 countries, 28 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food, according to the report.

Civil conflict continues to be a main driver of severe food insecurity, having triggered famine conditions in South Sudan and put populations in Yemen and northern Nigeria at high risk of localized famine. Adverse weather conditions are exacerbating the threat of famine in Somalia. Refugees from civil strife in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Central African Republic are putting additional pressure on local food supplies in host communities, the report notes.

Some 5.5 million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in South Sudan, where maize and sorghum prices are now four times higher than in April 2016. In Somalia, about 3.2 million people are in need of food and agricultural emergency assistance, while in Yemen the figure is as high as 17 million. In northern Nigeria, disruption caused by the conflict has left 7.1 million people facing acute food insecurity in the affected areas, with even more deemed to be in less dire but still "stressed" conditions.

The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Southern Africa rebounds, East Africa is parched

While worldwide cereal output is near record levels, production outcomes are mixed across the globe. South America is expected to post strong increases, led by Brazil and Argentina.

Regional production in Southern Africa is expected to jump by almost 45 percent compared to 2016 when crops were affected by El Niño, with record maize harvests forecast in South Africa and Zambia. This should help reducing food insecurity in several countries such as Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

The overall food supply situation in the Sahel region is also satisfactory after two consecutive years of bumper crops, the report notes.

East Africa, however, has suffered from insufficient rainfall at the start of the 2017 season, fall armyworm infestations and local conflicts. As a result, a record 26.5 million people in the sub-region are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, and the situation could be aggravated further in the coming months as the lean season peaks. An estimated 7.8 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia, where drought has dented crop and pasture output in southern regions.

Moreover, cereal domestic prices reached exceptionally high levels in May, with the local cost of maize jumping by as much as 65 percent this year in parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the report noted.

A severe drought in Sri Lanka, followed by heavy rains and local flooding in late May, will likely reduce the country's paddy production by nearly a third compared to the average; a joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission was fielded in March 2017 to assess the drought impact and the results are expected to be released next week.

Cereal output in the 52 Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) is set to rise by 1.3 percent this year to 480 million tonnes, due to a strong performance in India and the rebound in Southern African countries, according to FAO's forecasts.

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