The country continues to be affected by El Niño, in the form of heavy rains and flooding in the important producing south- eastern areas, while a prolonged drought since November has severely damaged most of the crops in the North-East. About 10 million people in the latter region are seriously affected, of which 4.8 million are facing critical food supply problems. Relief operations are being conducted by the Government which have helped ameliorate the situation. Food assistance from private institutions and non-governmental organizations has also been provided. The Government has announced the allocation of funds for the rehabilitation of the area. For the country as a whole, maize production in 1998 is officially forecast to decline from the 1997 well above-average 34 million tonnes to 31.5 million tonnes. This is mainly due to crop losses incurred in the drought affected areas, compounded by farmers decision in other parts to switch to alternative crops, attracted by higher prices. To meet a domestic demand of 36 million tonnes, a minimum of 1.5 million tonnes of maize would be required as imports. The difference would be drawn from the national stocks. A significant 1.6 million tonnes of rice imports would also be required in order to compensate for the important losses reported in the drought stricken North-East region and flooded areas of the south.
Planting of the 1998 wheat crop is underway and a 10 percent reduction in plantings from last years average 1.5 million hectares is provisionally forecast. This is largely the result of the adverse weather that has persisted in the main growing southern areas and farmers decision to switch to more profitable crops relative to wheat.