As of August 2003, the number of countries facing serious food shortages throughout the world stands at 38, with 23 in Africa, 8 in Asia, 5 in Latin America and 2 in Europe. In many of these countries, food shortages are being compounded by the effect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on food production, marketing and transport.
In eastern Africa, abundant rains in July and August generally improved the prospects for the 2003 cereal crops. However, severe floods and erratic rains in some areas may still affect yields. The regional climate forecast for the period from September to December 2003 is mixed. Most parts of Uganda, southern Sudan and southern Ethiopia are expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall, while it has been predicted that large parts of Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania would receive normal to below-normal rainfall.
Several countries in the subregion still face serious food difficulties. In Eritrea, about 2.3 million people are now reported to be facing severe food shortages as a result of last year's drought, poverty and the lingering effects of the war with Ethiopia. Similarly, in Ethiopia, a recent multi-agency assessment indicated that the number of people in need of food assistance now stands at about 13.2 million. In Tanzania, prolonged drought conditions in several areas have affected a large number of households, with an estimated 1.9 million people in need of food assistance. The situation in northern and eastern areas of Uganda has deteriorated with the escalation of armed conflict, bringing the total number of those in need of emergency assistance to more than 1.6 million.
In southern Africa, land preparation for planting of the 2004 cereal crops starting in October has begun under normal weather conditions so far. Production of the 2003 cereals was estimated at 21.8 million tonnes, slightly higher than in 2002. While in most countries of the region the output recovered from the reduced levels of the previous two years, it decreased in Botswana and remained below average in Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland, as well as in parts of Namibia, Madagascar and Mozambique. Substantial amounts of emergency food aid are still required in these areas, and mainly in Zimbabwe, where the needy are estimated to number some 5.5 million. Food assistance will also be required for 1.1 million returnees in Angola and for large groups affected by HIV/AIDS throughout the subregion.
In the Great Lakes region, the 2004 first-season foodcrops have begun to be planted. Good rains in late August and early September have helped the operations in the fields. However, in DR Congo, the civil war continues to disrupt all agricultural activities. Food insecurity and serious nutritional problems have been reported in several provinces.
In west Africa, overall crop prospects are favourable in the Sahel. Rainfall was limited in Senegal and Mauritania until late July, and then precipitation increased significantly in August over the main producing areas, replenishing soil water reserves and improving crop prospects. In Cape Verde, abundant rains fell on all agricultural islands in August. In spite of localized flooding in several regions of Burkina Faso, Chad, the Gambia, Mali and Niger, crop prospects remain generally favourable. By contrast, in Guinea Bissau the final outcome of the season will depend on the performance of the swamp rice crop, as prospects for coarse-grain crops have been compromised by large-scale infestations of grasshoppers in northern and eastern regions. In the coastal countries along the Gulf of Guinea, the outlook for the 2003 crops is mixed. Prospects for the main season crops are uncertain in Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, following extended dry weather in July.
In Asia, relatively good weather conditions, especially at the beginning of the season, and increased applications of fertilizer provided through international assistance in DPR Korea, are expected to result in an improved harvest of rice and maize. However, the country still faces a sizable food deficit.
In the Near East, food supply prospects are generally favourable mainly due to the fact that harvests were good. A recent FAO/WFP Crop, Food Supply and Nutrition Assessment Mission to Iraq found that this year's good agricultural production contrasts with the enormous economic difficulties faced by the majority of the population.
In the Asian Commonwealth of Independent States, aggregate cereal harvest has fallen this year by about 5 percent from the 2002 harvest. An unusually cold winter and a dry spring compromised cereal crops in parts of Kazakhstan, Georgia and Armenia, while the weather was favourable for crops in the rest of the region. Kazakhstan will remain a major cereal exporter, in particular to other CIS countries in Asia and Europe.
In Central America and the Caribbean, the abundant rains typical of the hurricane season were reported over most of the subregion during the past few weeks, with some damage to rural housing and infrastructure. The 2003/04 first season cereal and bean crop harvest is underway in most of the countries. Average to above-average outputs of the main cereal, maize, are provisionally forecast in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Food assistance is being provided to targeted families in these countries, particularly women and children who have been seriously affected by natural disasters and recurrent economic shocks over the past few years.
In South America, the 2003 wheat crop has been planted in the southern countries and will be ready for harvesting starting in October. The general state of the crops is satisfactory, and early production forecasts indicate that average to above-average outputs will be harvested.
In Europe, cereal production has been considerably reduced this year by adverse weather. Harsh winter conditions hindered planting in some areas, and an exceptionally hot and dry summer reduced yields across the continent. With the bulk of the crops already gathered, aggregate cereal output in the EU is now forecast at just 190 million tonnes, 12 percent lower than last year.
In the European Commonwealth of Independent States, cereal harvesting is almost complete and the aggregate output for the region has now been estimated at about 94.3 million tonnes, nearly 34.4 million tonnes lower than last year's harvest. The most seriously affected crop is wheat, followed by barley, both of which are nearly 25.5 million and 6.9 million tonnes less, respectively, than last year's harvest. Unusually cold weather and thin snow cover during the winter, followed by a hot, dry spring, as well as torrential rains during the summer harvest are the main explanations for the significant decline in harvest output this year.
In North America, the United States wheat crop has been estimated at 62.4 million tonnes, which is 42 percent higher than last year's low output. Winter wheat for harvesting in 2004 was sown in early September under generally favourable conditions. Although hot, dry weather in August lowered expectations somewhat for the maize and sorghum crops, the aggregate coarse grain output has also been forecast to rebound from last year's drought-reduced level. In Canada, hot and dry conditions during July and early August diminished prospects for the main 2003 cereal crops, but overall production is still expected to be higher than last year's drought-reduced level.
In Oceania, the prospects for the developing winter grain crops in Australia have improved following widespread rains that fell on most of the main grain-growing areas. It has been estimated that 9 percent more winter grain was planted this year than in the previous season.
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