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close this bookCERES No. 096 - November - December 1983 (FAO Ceres, 1983, 50 p.)
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Food shortage strikes a growing number of African states

For millions of people in more than score of African countries, prospects or a better diet appear more remote than ever as another year ends. Over the past few months an awesome combination of spreading drought, livestock disease, crop pests, civil strife, and foreign exchange shortages has further debilitated already weak patterns of agricultural production. Until next year's main cereal crops are harvested - in April or May in the southern hemisphere but not until October or November north of he equator - the extent of hunger and malnourishment will depend to a large degree upon the results of international efforts to bridge the widening gap between the total food import requirements of the affected countries and the amount they are able to purchase on a commercial basis.

For 22 African countries designated by a special FAO/WFP task force as being in need of exceptional international support, total food aid requirements for 1983-84 are estimated at 3.2 million metric tons, more than double all the food aid they received the previous 12-month period. As of the end of last September, less than 20 percent of this amount had been pledged by donors. Addressing a special meeting of affected and donor countries in Rome in mid-October, FAO Director-General Edouard Saouma warned that "suddenly we may be confronted with the situation that a significant proportion of the population of over 150 million of these twenty-two countries faces the most serious economic distress and shortage of food, which may reach proportions of hunger and malnourishment on a massive scale and will certainly result in a serious setback in the development process of these countries. "

A task force situation report made available to the Rome meeting stated that in all 22 countries stocks held by government, private traders and farmers either are already exhausted or will be before next year's crops are harvested The report estimated that the minimum additional food aid required in the next months would be one million tons, of which 700 000 tons represent exceptional needs of the affected countries. In addition to the food aid, the report also identified other external assistance requirements totaling US$76 million for essential production inputs, measures to control animal diseases, and post-emergency agricultural rehabilitation FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System reports that 1983 cereal production prospects are poor in most of the affected countries The decline in output has been especially sharp in southern Africa, where two years of successive drought have reduced the cereal harvest by 42 5 percent from the 1981 level. Seven of the 22 affected countries - Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - are in this region. Aggregate cereal production for all 22 countries for 1983 is forecast at 13.9 million tons, more than 3 million tons below the 1981 harvest.

The difficulties that many of the affected countries faced during the past year in overcoming the shortfall in food supplies point toward even more critical shortages in the next nine months. Import requirements for the 1982/83 year were estimated at 4.4 million tons, but actual imports amounted to only 3.3 million tons, of which 1.8 were commercial imports, the balance being made up by food aid shipments. Commercial imports have remained stagnant at about 1.8 million tons during recent years, reflecting balance-of-payments constraints. Food aid shipments in the past year were 100 000 tons below the previous year. With import requirements forecast at 5 million tons for 1983/84 and foreign exchange problems still likely to curtail commercial purchases, the level of food aid shipments becomes even more critical.

Beyond pledges made by donor nations, getting food to where it is needed is a major problem, especially in landlocked countries. The task force found that some countries do not have sufficient vehicles to move the increased volumes of food they require, while others even lack the fuel to operate those vehicles they have.

Nearly half of the non-food external assistance requirements that were identified would be to support agricultural recovery after the emergency period, especially for the building up of seed reserve stocks. Multiple replanting undertaken during unfavorable sowing conditions in 1981/1982 and 1982/83 have created a serious shortage of suitable seeds.