DATE: 15 April 1997

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

The behaviour of the 1997 long rains in the unimodal rainfall central, southern and south-western areas gives cause for concern. These rains normally start in November and end in April, with the harvest in June/July. This season is the most important for cereals, providing some 40 percent of the annual maize production.

Rains in November/December 1996 were erratic with a prolonged dry spell in December over most growing areas. In general, rains were one month late, becoming well established only in January. The late start of the rains resulted in reductions in the area planted and replanting of crops sown in November, mainly in central parts. While yields of the early planted crop are expected to be substantially lower than normal, the late-planted crops may not have enough time to mature and are vulnerable to an early end of the rainy season.

Precipitation in February and March remained patchy and below average in most parts with severe and prolonged dry spells in early March . Heavy rains in late March and the first dekade of April, which resulted in floods in some southern areas, generally improved crop conditions but were too late to prevent further reductions in yields and insufficient to allow a full recovery of crops in several parts.

Cereal crops, currently at advanced vegetative to flowering stage, are reported in poor condition in central parts but in a better situation in southern and south-western areas. Although the final outcome of the crop will depend on the rains in the last half of April, the cereal output is anticipated to decline substantially from last year due to lower plantings and yields. If good rains are not received in the remainder of the crop season, the impact on yields would be disastrous and production would be sharply reduced.

Following a drought-reduced 1996/97 "short rains" season crop in the north and north-eastern areas, which left some 700 000 people in need of emergency food assistance, the failure of this season�s crop would have disastrous consequences for the county�s food security. Adequate contingency plans by the national authorities and the international donor community are urgently advised to avoid major food difficulties. The situation will be closely monitored by FAO/GIEWS.

This alert is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources and is for official use only. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5225-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): [email protected]) for further information if required.

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