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close this bookCERES No. 114 (FAO Ceres, 1986, 50 p.)
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FAO in action


The emergency campaign for the control of grasshoppers and locusts, coordinated by FAO (see FAO in action, May-June 1986) has prevented widespread crop losses in Africa, but a threat to 1987 crops remains. According to a late October assessment, more than 90 per cent of the food crops threatened by the Senegalese grasshopper in western Africa had been saved, while eastern Africa had been spared an anticipated scourge of Red and African migratory locusts. However, southern Africa continues to be threatened by a Brown Locust plague now in its second year, and an upsurge of Desert Locust activity in the Arabian peninsula is causing further concern. Reviewing the performance of the US$35 million international campaign, FAO Director-General Edouard Saouma credited its near-term success to early warnings of the threatened infestations and to "an unprecedented level of donor and African cooperation that made control operations timely and efficient". Most of the resources needed for the campaign were mobilized through two donors' meetings held at FAO headquarters in May and July of this year. A special Emergency Centre for Locust Operations, established at FAO headquarters in early August, coordinated a massive spraying operation that covered 1.6 million hectares in 13 African countries and involved at least 15 donors, 36 aircraft, more than 500 tons of pesticides, a multitude of support personnel and countless African farmers. Major donors included the United States, the European Community, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, France, Norway and Sweden.


Many African countries have shared in the above-average harvest of cereals that has characterized 1986 crop production almost worldwide. FAO Crop Assessment missions have confirmed that the Sahelian countries of western Africa will have a record output for the second year in succession. Both Morocco and Nigeria have harvested record crops. In the Sudan, preliminary estimates are for another good harvest, despite reduced acreage. Crop prospects in most of Ethiopia's important grain-growing areas are generally good. A number of African countries are likely to have coarse grain surpluses available for export, perhaps as much as one million tons. However, the extent to which they will be able to enter world markets will depend on their ability to match the terms of sales being offered by major exporters or to make special arrangements, such as barter deals, or triangular transactions. FAO's most recent Food Outlook report estimates 1986 world cereal production at 1 858 million tons, or about 16 million tons more than the record harvest of 1985. At the same time, world cereal trade for 1986-87 is expected to drop to 174 million tons, the lowest level in eight years, reflecting reduced import demand mainly due to a larger USSR harvest this year. The implications, according to the FAO Food Outlook report for December: "In view of the weakening demand for imports this season and the growing competition for markets, including from a substantial number of smaller and occasional exporters, only a few countries are expected to maintain their volume of shipments in 1986-87 or to be able to dispose of their export surpluses. Among the major exporters, only the United States, Canada and South Africa are likely to export as much as in the previous year. Sales by a number of smaller exporting countries are likely to fall short of their potential because of difficulties encountered in matching the increasingly favourable terms, including both low prices and non-price elements, such as credit arrangements offered by some major exporters. FAO currently forecasts that the aggregate shipments of these smaller exporters will fall by about five million tons this year; their share of the market would thus decline to about 18 per cent, compared with 20 per cent in 1985-86.


FAO will undertake a major feasibility study on "aid-in-kind" to help Africa's agricultural recovery and to relieve foreign exchange constraints in obtaining such inputs as fertilizers an and seeds. Approval for the undertaking was given in November by the 90th session of the FAO Council, which declared "The study should have two principal objectives: determination of likely input needs for the next five years and an assessment of the potential role of aid-inkind to meet them and the possible modalities for doing so." The study of aid-in-kind had been requested by African agricultural ministers meeting at FAO's Regional Conference for Africa last September after it had been proposed by FAO Director-General Edouard Saouma as part of his Programme of Action for African Agriculture. (See Ceres No. 113, p. 13.) Mr Saouma told the Council that an expansion of such aid, already provided on an ad-hoc basis, could be beneficial to both the developing and developed countries. "The Third World," he said, "crippled by debt and short of foreign currency, is hardly in a position to make the necessary financial efforts. Developed countries, whose industrial capacities are often underused because of the crisis, could make an exceptional effort to supply such goods on easy terms."


The FAO Council also endorsed the Director-General's proposals for adjustments in the Organization's programmes in order to achieve savings of about $16.4 million as a means of averting a serious cash flow problem in 1987. The savings would mostly be made from delayed filling of vacant posts and reductions in the number of meetings and publications. The shortfall in income is attributed to a number of factors, principally domestic legislation in the United States (the Organization's largest contributor) limiting payments to international organizations, but also to arrears in contributions from other member nations, a decline in miscellaneous income because of lower interest rates and a lower level of investible funds.


In one of the small valleys that traverse the high Fouta Djallon plateau of central Guinea, a few score peasant families are responding positively to a pilot project for improved market garden production based primarily on overcoming the problem of uncertain water supplies. For the 110 households who are the initial beneficiaries of the FAO/UNDP project, watering crops had always meant drawing it manually from the river channel, an arduous, archaic system that limited each family's growing area to 500 or 600 square metres. Although the climate favours double cropping, the drying up of the river channel every March made this impossible. The problem of the lack of permanent water resources has been resolved with the completion of a 750 000 cubic metre dam from which water is now channelled to the fields along a 4 200 metre primary canal, permitting peasants to susbstitute gravity irrigation for strenuous manual methods. The peasants, who are hired by the pilot centre on a rotating basis in order to become familiar with gravity irrigation methods, are now producing two irrigated dry season crops, instead of one watered by hand. The peasants have also formed production groups to improve their efficiency and to control certain key aspects of their activities, such as group purchases of seeds and fertilizers. Meanwhile, with a view to guiding the development of market gardening in the region, the project has undertaken a survey on the marketing of fruits and vegetables, covering the main producing zones and markets in the interior, as well as in Conakry. In the longer run, it is envisaged that the valley could support 400 to 450 families. While it is not possible that large retaining dams could be provided for neighbouring valleys in the plateau, the Fouta Djallon has 6 000 more-or-less permanent springs, each of which would permit construction of a small earthen dam able to irrigate a few hectares of market garden crops. The preparations required for this type of installation are easy and the topography of the valleys of the plateau is well suited to small water projects of this type.


Half a dozen developing countries in eastern and southern Africa are making concerted efforts to promote building of low-cost farm structures to provide better drying and storage facilities for food crops. The project, financed by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and executed by FAO, emphasizes the use of locally available materials and skills. The immediate objective is to develop national expertise in the field of rural structures. Since the project was initially launched eight years ago, the six participating countries - Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia - have established rural structures units which organize testing and evaluation of structures, prepare drawings, specifications and manuals, support training for extension workers and farmers, and promote improved structures in rural communities. For the time being emphasis has been put on crop storage, but this will later be extended to include structures for livestock, water storage and family dwellings.