DATE:21 MAY 1998

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



A prolonged drought stretching across 10 states in the north-east Region of Brazil is severely affecting crop production in the area and threatening the food supply situation of the population. The position is difficult for almost 10 million people of which about 4.8 million are facing critical food supply problems. The drought is largely attributable to El Niño weather phenomenon, which has exacerbated the regionís annual dry spells. The crop and food situation is likely to deteriorate further in the months ahead if drought, as forecast, continues at least until December 1998.

Foodcrops Production Prospects for 1998

The current drought in the North-east region constitutes one of the worst regional droughts in the last 15 years in an area characterized by vast extensions of land with a general lack of water supply and irrigation systems. In this region, where land is often overexploited and subsistence farming prevails, it is estimated that about 42 percent of the population of the North-East live in areas with degraded land. More than 50 percent of the land in the states of Ceará and Paraiba is affected by desertification. It constitutes one of the poorest regions in Brazil.

The rainy season normally extends from a pre-rainy season in December to well-defined rains from February to May. This season, probably as a consequence of El Niño phenomenon, rainfall has been insufficient or virtually non-existent in large areas of the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Pernambuco, Piaui, Sergipe, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Norte, and the northern parts of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo. According to a report released by the Governmentís regional development agency (SUDENE), the situation is critical for the region as a whole, as dry conditions are forecast to continue until December, with the possibility that it might extend into March 1999, overlapping part of the next rainy season.

The main foodcrops grown in the region include maize, rice, beans, cassava, and soybeans. Maize production in 1997 was some 2.6 million tonnes, or about 8 percent of Brazilís total output. A slightly smaller area is expected for 1998, but due to the lack of rains (planting generally starts in February), plantings have been reduced. In some of the most affected states, such as in Ceará and north of Minas Gerais, reductions are between 60 and 90 percent of projected plantings. The outputs of rainfed rice and beans in the region, the main staples in the populationís diet, were about 1.9 million tonnes and 1 million tonnes respectively in 1997. The planting of paddy in the region normally starts in April, while that of the main beans crop begins in May. Both crops have experienced substantial reductions in plantings, in some locations exceeding 80 percent of the expected area planted. Total grain production in the North-East in a normal year is about 4.5 million tonnes. Current indications are that this yearís

grain output is unlikely to exceed 50 percent of the normal production. The North-East region accounts for about 40 percent of the national cassava production, where it is also a major staple food. In 1997, the region produced about 10.5 million tonnes of the total 24.9 million tonnes produced in the country. Planting generally starts in February. Deterioration of the cassava crop so far reported is smaller than that experienced by other crops because cassava is more drought-resistant. In some states, like in the north of Minas Gerais, cash crops such as coffee and sugarcane are also reported to be severely affected by the drought. Coffee is planted from the beginning of the rainy season in December, but due to the absence of rains, potential losses range from 30 to 50 percent of planned production in various growing localities. Fruit production is also likely to be severely affected by the drought and cattle deaths are being increasingly reported.

According to SUDENE, as of early May 1998 approximately 4.8 million people of the 10 million people in 1 233 municipalities affected by the drought, were at the "immediate risk of starvation". Emergency relief operations have been initiated by the Government. Relief food distributions have eased the situation that had become very grave in some of the most affected locations, where looting and raids on food stores have been reported. Food assistance from some non-governmental organizations and other institutions is also being provided. Coordinating committees (Comissao Municipal do PRODEA/Comunidade Solidaria) at a municipal level, in close collaboration with other public institutions, are in charge of the relief distribution operations.

In order to prevent a similar crisis in the future, the Government has recently announced the allocation of funds for the rehabilitation of the area. These include subsidized credit to affected farmers for the construction of wells and dams to help mitigate the effects of the recurring droughts. Farmers will be encouraged to use the loans for investment in drought-resistant crops or in other irrigated crops. One-half of the allocated funds are expected to be distributed to small farmers who will be required to repay only 50 percent of the amounts borrowed.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, 
(Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495, 
E-Mail (INTERNET): [email protected]) for further information if required.
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