Massive population flight from productive zones to safer areas has led to a drop in farming activities, the minister of agriculture and rural development, Danon Djedje, told journalists on 17 January. This has reduced food stocks in the areas hosting the internally displaced persons (IDPs), Carmel Obou, information officer in the agriculture ministry told IRIN.
To prevent a food deficit, the Ivorian government was to mount an emergency food project called 'Projet riz pour tous' (Rice-for-all Project). The project, expected to cost an estimated 4.25 billion CFA (US $7.2 million) seeks to offset the long delay in the start of the current planting season in the war zones and areas near the frontline between government troops and rebels of the Mouvement patriotique de Côte d'Ivoire (MPCI).
Carmel said the government would use one billion CFA to subsidise the rice-for-all project. The remaining 3.25 billion CFA would go to agricultural groups that will be cultivating the cereal on a total area of 125,000 ha.
Preparations for the project were underway in government-controlled areas in central and west-central Côte d'Ivoire and around the economic capital, Abidjan. The first phase of planting, due to start in April, is expected to yield 26,623 mt of rice while the state is to import about 500,377 mt.
The 2003 rice harvest had been estimated at 617,000 mt before the rebellion began in September 2002. According to the agriculture ministry, annual consumption is estimated at 1,145,000 mt.
Cries of alarm have already been sounded in some of the areas directly affected by fighting between loyalist troops and rebels. A local newspaper quoted the mayor of the western town of Duekoue as saying that about 7,000 displaced people in his area would run short of food if nothing was done.
Crops have been rotting in fields in the central region of Sakassou, about 310 km north of Abidjan, and the scene of fierce fighting in the early days of the insurgency. People there are afraid to go to harvest their plantains and bananas, Kouadio N'Guessan Paul, a farmer from Sakassou, told the local press.
Many of the people displaced from such areas had sought refuge in the capital, Yamoussoukro, 2666 km north of Abidjan. A state crisis committee in Yamoussoukro said it needed over 2.7 million CFA (just under US $5,000) per month to feed 1,200 IDPs living in the town itself.
According to the committee, 400 host families were providing accommodation to other IDPs in the Yamoussoukro area. Information provided by these households shows that their combined monthly food bill was over 24 million CFA (almost US $41,000), a member of the crisis committee, which is led by the prefect of the region, said.
In the southwest, where the second largest port, San Pedro, is located, food aid donated by NGOs, religious groups and charitable persons had benefited thousands of IDPs, the Red Cross in San Pedro told IRIN. More was however needed to feed children and adults.
In rebel-held Bouake, about 111 km north of Yamoussoukro, more and more people had reportedly been reduced to destitution. According to various testimonies, households have had to cut back on the rice, sweet potatoes and plantains they eat so as to make sure their members obtain a minimum of food each day. The few proprietors of local restaurants and other food sellers told local reporters that they sometimes gave out food for free and were worried because they risked going bankrupt.
In government-controlled areas, there have been significant price hikes. Irie Lou, chairperson of the Agricultural Producers Cooperative of Côte d'Ivoire in a radio interview on 21 January, urged retailers to keep prices at pre-crisis levels.
Salaries, she argued, were no longer enough for families when they have to board and lodge IDPs. In many cases, the number of persons per household had more than doubled.
In November, the World Food Programme (WFP) launched an appeal for $6.6 million dollars to provide food for people who need it in Côte d'Ivoire. At Monday's press conference, WFP said it only had enough food to assist the affected populations until March.
WFP has been providing for 175,000 persons through the distribution of emergency food rations in the north, center and west of the country, WFP information officer Sam Oussou told IRIN.
Should the crisis continue, it will have severe consequences for Côte d'Ivoire and its neighbours, WFP's emergency assistance coordinator, Gemmo Lodesani, said.
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