Ample global grain harvest expected, but many countries still face food shortages

Ample global grain harvest expected, but many countries still face food shortages

Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS):

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Global production of cereal crops in 1997 continues to look strong, nearly reaching 1996 record levels and above trend for the second year in a row, according to the May/June Food Outlook, the FAO report analysing the situation and prospects for basic foodstuffs. Despite the overall increase, however, 29 countries around the globe still require emergency food assistance.

The bimonthly report puts 1997 cereal production at 1 887 million tonnes (including milled rice), up 7 million tonnes from the previous forecast. Wheat output is forecast at 583 million tonnes, coarse grains at 926 million tonnes and rice output is expected to remain unchanged from last year's level of approximately 377 million tonnes.

Assuming this forecast materializes, cereal production will meet expected 1997/98 consumption requirements and should allow for a further modest replenishment of cereal stocks for the second consecutive year after the sharp drawdown in 1995/96. Nevertheless, the forecast global end-of-season stocks to use ratio in 1997/98 may only approach 16 percent, still below the 17 to 18 percent range that FAO considers the minimum necessary to safeguard world food security.

Despite this global increase in cereal production, food emergencies persist in 29 countries around the world, mostly in Africa. The situation is particularly grave in Sierra Leone. Recent political upheaval has worsened the already precarious food security situation in that country, according to a recent Special Alert issued by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS). Any hope for an economic turnaround has been dashed by the recently aborted peace process. International aid workers have been evacuated and rehabilitation projects have been put on hold. Up to 20 000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, mostly Guinea and the Gambia, and repatriation of Sierra Leone refugees from neighbouring countries has come to a halt.

Amid the turbulence, food and water supplies are reported to be deteriorating. Prices have skyrocketed - the price of rice has tripled in Freetown - putting staple foods out of the reach of much of the population. Insecurity is also severely hampering agricultural activities. The planting of main crops, which normally takes place in April to June, has been disrupted by the fighting, and planted areas are likely to be sharply reduced as farmers abandon their farms. The country will continue to rely heavily on food aid to meet its consumption needs.

Elsewhere in Africa, the food supply position remains precarious in the Great Lakes region. In Rwanda, the food situation remains difficult for well over 2 million people, mainly returning refugees. Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (ex-Zaire) continues to face serious food supply problems, although the situation is expected to improve substantially when the current airlift of Rwandan refugees back home is completed. And in Burundi, the food supply situation remains tight with prices at high levels, despite the partial relaxation of the economic embargo by neighbouring countries.

In East Africa, emergency food assistance continues to be needed in eastern and northeastern parts of Kenya, in pastoralist southern regions of Ethiopia, and in parts of Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia. In southern Africa, the overall food supply outlook remains favourable, but continued food assistance is needed by several countries, particularly Angola and Mozambique.

In Asia, North Korea's worsening food situation is cause for serious concern and starvation-related deaths can be expected before the next harvest unless substantial food imports are received. Food production in Iraq remains constrained by shortages of agricultural inputs resulting from economic sanctions, and food supply difficulties persist in Afghanistan. In the Commonwealth of Independent States, the food supply situation is deteriorating in Tajikistan where the incidence of acute malnutrition is on the rise.

The latest issue of Foodcrops and Shortages, another GIEWS publication, lists seven countries facing unfavourable prospects for current crops. Particularly difficult food supply situations can be found in Haiti, Iraq and Sri Lanka, as well as Sierra Leone, which have been affected or are threatened by successive bad crops or food shortages. Rounding off the list are Chile, Cuba, Tanzania and Turkmenistan, most of which have suffered from adverse weather conditions. 

24 July 1997

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