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Food emergencies in 35 countries worldwide
Civil strife, bad weather and HIV/AIDS said to be main causes
31 May 2004, Rome - The number of countries facing serious food shortages this month declined to 35 from 38 in February, but in Africa the number of countries needing food aid remains unchanged at 24, according to a report released today by FAO.

The May issue of Foodcrops and Shortages, a publication of the Global Information and Early Warning System, blames civil conflict, adverse weather, particularly drought for much of the food shortages, but adds: "In many of these countries, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a major contributing factor."

In eastern Africa, prospects for main season crops improved because of above-average rainfall in most areas, the report says.

But in western Sudan a civil conflict has displaced over one million people leading to a "grave humanitarian crisis", while in Eritrea, early rains have been poor.

Desert locusts remain a serious threat to crops in northern and western Africa, where control operations are hampered by a lack of resources, according to the report.

In southern Africa, where joint FAO and World Food Programme Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions are underway in five countries, delayed, inadequate and erratic rains characterized the first half of the 2003/04 growing season.

While the crop prospects improved with more favorable rainfall in the second half of the season, the report says that the rain was so intense in parts of Zambia and Angola that many rivers overflowed causing serious flooding in western Zambia and in downstream parts of Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Floods damaged crops in these areas and emergency food assistance had to be rushed to people whose homes and crops were destroyed.

The report says that Zimbabwe could face acute food shortages as early estimates of 2004 food production indicate a potential food deficit of up to 1 million tonnes of cereals, which may require a combination of commercial imports and emergency food assistance. But, FAO says this forecast cannot be confirmed at this time because the FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission could not be completed.

Indian wheat production rises

In Asia, winter cereal crops are being harvested and planting of rice and coarse grain crops has started.

Though some countries had insufficient rain, the report says the impact on overall food production is limited since winter crops are generally irrigated. Grain supplies in the region have been tight and prices have been on the rise for major grains since last fall.

According to the report, Sri Lanka has been seriously affected by drought with rice production falling 18 percent in 2004. Thousands of families are in need of food assistance

In China, the total area planted with cereals has dropped by more than 15 percent, or 14 million hectares, from 1998 to 2003.

As a result, says the report, the output of cereals declined by 17 percent, or some 79 million tones. The government has begun implementing a number of new policies to encouraged farmers to increase grain production. The major policies include direct subsidies to farmers, phasing out the agriculture tax, minimum grain purchasing prices and strictly protecting farmland.

India is the second largest producer of wheat after China. This year's wheat output, while revised downward, still shows a sharp increase over last year and the 2004 wheat area and output are estimated at well above last year and the five-year average.

In Afghanistan, early snowmelt and high temperatures during spring may adversely affect cereal crops. In Iraq, the reduced numbers of international humanitarian workers is affecting delivery of food and other types of assistance.

The report warns that a serious humanitarian crisis continues in North Korea because of chronic food shortages.

"With the recent arrival of donated maize and wheat, all but 600 000 core beneficiaries received their WFP full cereal rations in April. New pledges of about 123 000 tonnes of mixed commodities are urgently needed to cover needs over the next six months."

Haiti and Central America

The FAO reports says that food assistance deliveries in Haiti were returning to normal following improved security, until torrential rains and severe flooding struck Haiti and Dominican Republic causing loss of live and damage to property.

Food assistance continues to be delivered in several Central American countries to rural families affected by a depressed coffee sector.

In Argentina and Brazil, the maize crop has been affected by drought during the growing season.

In Ecuador and Peru, dry weather caused a marked reduction in production of winter rice and first season maize crops.

The report says that weather conditions in Europe for 2004 cereal crops remain generally favourable across the region.

Cereal output in the 25 European Union (EU) countries is forecast to increase substantially from last year, with significant improvements seen in both the EU-15 and the 10 new member countries of central Europe.

Planted areas have increased and better yields are expected reflecting generally adequate moisture availability so far. The report also forecasts larger crops in the Balkan countries due to generally favourable weather.

Frost damage

In the European countries of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), April frost damaged significant winter cereal areas. Cereal harvests though significantly up on last year, are reported to be still below the good harvests in 2001 and 2002. Some 61 million hectares of cereals have been planted in the region.

Provided that favourable weather conditions prevail during late spring and summer, the report forecasts aggregate cereal harvest in the region at 115 million tonnes (59 million tonnes of wheat and 55 million tonnes of coarse grains).

Lower wheat production in North America

In North America, the report forecasts that wheat production in the United States will fall sharply from last year because of reduced planting and unfavourable weather in some parts of the country.

However, generally favourable planting conditions have prevailed so far for the coarse grain planting season, and the output of coarse grains, especially maize, is forecast to increase.

In Canada, the report says, seeding progress of the major 2004 cereal crops has been good so far this year and precipitation in early May provided welcome moisture in some persistently dry areas of Alberta. The overall area sown to cereals is expected to decrease in 2004 because of a shift of land into non-cereal crops.

In Australia, the report forecasts 2004 cereal output at about 22 million tonnes, 3 million tonnes down on last year's record. The planting season started well with good early rains but the return of dry conditions in April, especially in southeastern parts of the country, dampened earlier hopes for bumper crops.

John Riddle
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53259


John Riddle
Information Officer
+39 06 570 53259

FAO/12176/J. Van Acker

Crop prospects improve for some countries, but 35 countries still face food shortages.

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Food emergencies in 35 countries worldwide
Civil strife, bad weather and HIV/AIDS said to be main causes
31 May 2004 -- FAO says civil conflict, adverse weather and HIV/AIDS are main causes for serious food shortages in 35 countries worldwide.
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