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Despite record cereal crop this year, some countries will struggle - UN agency

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Although global cereal production is expected to reach record levels this year, at least 33 countries are forecast to face serious difficulties, largely because of conflict, economic struggles or bad weather, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today.

The latest issue of the FAO Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, released at the agency's headquarters in Rome, found that cereal production is on track to reach 2,095 million tons, a jump of 4.8 per cent on the figures from last year. The bulk of the increase is tipped to be in maize production.

Demand and prices are on the rise, according to the report, driven by the fast-growing biofuels industry and by stocks hitting their lowest level in more than 20 years.

FAO warned that this could hurt some States classified as low-income food deficit countries, which will now face higher bills for the import of cereals. Several of these nations, include Morocco and Zimbabwe, are also expecting reduced harvests this year.

Emergency assistance will be needed in 33 countries, the report predicts, with the majority of the affected nations in Africa. Millions of Zimbabweans are expected to face food shortages as the country's economic crisis deepens and inflation continues to skyrocket, while the recent flare-up of conflict in southern Somalia has led to so much displacement that crop production is almost certain to drop sharply around the capital Mogadishu.

Outside Africa, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a cause for concern, with economic constraints and floods jeopardizing the food supply situation for millions of people. A combination of drought and floods in Bolivia during the main cropping season has left large numbers of vulnerable farmers in the Andean nation as well.

The "countries in crisis requiring external assistance" are: Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, the DPRK, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Bolivia.