Severe drought drastically reduces crop production in Moldova
Most households forced to sell livestock due to lack of forage and to meet higher food prices
25 September 2007, Rome -- Severe drought has drastically reduced crop yields in Moldova, driving up food prices and reducing access to food for poor households, according to a joint report issued today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Cereal production is down by 63 percent compared to last year, and is about 70 percent lower than the average of the past five years, according to the report, which was based on a joint mission to Moldova in August by the two UN agencies. The report estimates 2007 wheat output at 464 000 tonnes, maize at 276 000 tonnes, and barley at 86 000 tonnes.
“Moldova’s 2007 drought has been the most severe in living memory and represents the extreme manifestation of a trend towards drier weather conditions in the country,” said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System.
Moldova has recorded nine significant dry periods or droughts since 1990. This year’s drought can be compared with that of 1946, during which many Moldovans starved to death. The FAO/WFP mission observed that many lakes and rivers, usually full to capacity at this time of year, were dry, and that the water table in some areas had receded by almost two meters.
Making ends meet
“Reduced yields not only affected overall production, but drastically reduced returns on leased land and on labour, hitting small farmers, who usually receive in-kind payments of wheat, corn and oil, particularly hard,” Josserand said.
Household production from home gardens, a mainstay of food supply for most rural families, which comprise 70 percent of the population, was also down sharply, the report said.
Lack of pasture and fodder, and the need to purchase increasingly expensive food have forced the majority of households to sell a substantial share of their livestock, a key component of household financial and food security.
While lending to Moldova’s agricultural sector is relatively small, debt outstanding is on the order of US$30.5 million for small farms and farmers’ associations, and over US$100 million for private agricultural enterprises. Unless these loans are re-scheduled, the report predicts that the current failed cropping season may be followed by a delayed or sharply curtailed one due to producers’ inability to afford inputs.
To maintain the national food balance, commercial wheat imports, including for emergency stock build-up, are expected to reach about 237 000 tonnes this year, according to the report. Maize imports are likely to reach 500 000 tonnes, most of it to feed what is left of the livestock.
Prices to remain high
Even with adequate overall supply, food prices will remain high or rise further, the report said. In some markets vegetable prices have more than doubled compared with the same period last year, while bread prices have increased by nearly 40 percent in some areas. With household budgets already stressed, food access is likely to decrease for poorer households.
“Government-funded social assistance programmes, such as allowances to vulnerable groups, expanded school canteen programmes and cash-for-public-work programmes, urgently need to be stepped up,” said Asif Niazi, Regional Assessment Officer for WFP. He added that WFP “stands ready to provide technical support” to the government from its regional office in Cairo, as WFP does not have an office in Moldova.
Other urgent measures recommended by the report include the provision of agricultural inputs for October planting, subsidies for livestock feed in order to prevent further sell-off of animals, and relief on land taxes and essential food import duties. Given the prevalence of anaemia in the country, the report said that imported wheat should be fortified.
Medium-term measures should consist of a rebuilding of the national herd, improved seed production and multiplication, appropriate crop mix and water resources for home gardens, and an upgrade in food security monitoring and early warning tools, the report said.
The longer term will require a more sustainable strategy for the agricultural sector, and greater and less expensive access to credit and to agricultural insurance, including weather-indexed risk management instruments.
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