As of February 2004, the number of countries facing serious food shortages throughout the world stands at 38 with 24 in Africa, 7 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: recently published joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment reports highlight this factor (see http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/faoinfo/economic/giews/english/alertes/sptoc.htm).
In eastern Africa, harvesting of the 2003/04 secondary cereal crops is almost complete in most countries, except in Ethiopia where planting is about to commence. The outlook is generally poor in the United Republic of Tanzania and Kenya mainly due to inadequate rainfall. In addition, pastoral areas in the region, particularly in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, have received poor seasonal rains resulting in water and pasture stress.
The overall food supply situation in the region, however, has generally improved with bumper harvests in Ethiopia and the Sudan from last main season crops. However, in Eritrea, despite improved cereal harvest compared to the previous year, output was more than 40 percent below average.
Overall, the food security situation of a large number of people affected by civil strife and drought in the region is highly precarious, including 7.2 million in Ethiopia, 3.6 million in the Sudan, 1.6 million each in UR Tanzania and Uganda, 1.9 million in Eritrea, 1.2 million in Kenya and 580 000 in Somalia.
In southern Africa, prospects for the 2004 cereal crops are generally unfavourable at this stage due to prevailing drought conditions in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and parts of Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. The sub-region has faced an erratic rainfall pattern with heavy rains in early February causing flooding in the Caprivi Strip and Upper Zambezi plain. Current drought in eastern South Africa, Swaziland and southern Mozambique is compounding the agricultural and food security situation already undermined by successive droughts since 2002 in the sub-region. In other parts of the sub-region the outlook remains favourable at this time. The weather and crop situation needs to be closely monitored in the coming weeks.
Household food security in the sub-region, exacerbated by the escalating maize prices in South Africa and Zimbabwe, is at its lowest during the February-April lean period just prior to the next harvest. Numbers of vulnerable people requiring food assistance have been revised upwards in Zimbabwe, Angola and Malawi. Food aid donations of only 509 000 tonnes or 68 percent of the amount appealed to assist 6.55 million beneficiaries in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, had been received or confirmed by the end of January 2004.
In the Great Lakes region, food production in Burundi (cereals, legumes, roots and tubers and banana and plantain) from the first season crops in 2004 is estimated at 1.1 million metric tonnes, about 2 percent higher than the year before but still below pre-crisis period average of 1988-93. The overall security situation in the region has improved except in some localised areas, however, food aid continues to be required in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda for the vulnerable and IDP groups as the nutritional situation of these people remains critical.
In central Africa, crop prospects are unfavourable and food security remains precarious in the Central Africa Republic due to mass population displacement.
In northern Africa, following favourable weather conditions in all countries of the sub-region, early prospects for the winter cereal crops to be harvested from April are so far favourable in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. Production of cereals in the sub-region last year is estimated at a record 36 million tonnes, 8 million tonnes higher than the average crop harvested in 2002.
In west Africa, the 2003 aggregate cereal production for the nine Sahelian countries has been estimated at a record 14.3 million tonnes, some 2.9 million tonnes higher than the above-average crop of 11.4 million tonnes harvested in 2002. Production was significantly above average in all countries except Cape Verde. In the costal countries along the Gulf of Guinea, aggregate production of cereals is estimated at 30.6 million tonnes, slightly higher than previous year and above average.
In Asia, food supply prospects are generally favourable mainly due to good harvest. With generally favourable monsoon rains, rice - the major food grain in the region - reached all time record production levels in many countries in 2003, including: Bangladesh; Cambodia; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Myanmar; Philippines; Sri Lanka; Thailand and Viet Nam. India, Indonesia and Nepal also had bumper harvests of rice. The Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan had increased outputs of wheat. Ten Asian countries: Viet Nam, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Lao People's Democratic Republic and Pakistan have been hit by the avian influenza virus. Up to 10 February, 19 persons had died and millions of poultry had been killed. The maize feed demand and soybeans market have been affected seriously. In Afghanistan, improved precipitation and snow cover throughout the country have reportedly enabled farmers to nearly match last year's record area planted with winter cereals, mainly wheat. Spring and early summer precipitation and temperatures are important factors affecting aggregate harvest.
In the Near East, recent precipitation and snow cover in most countries have improved prospects for winter grains for harvest from May 2004.
In the Asian CIS countries, improved precipitation and snow cover throughout the region have been reported and prospects are for an improved harvest this year. The improvement in forecast harvest is seen more in the food deficit countries of the region, many of which have required some food aid in the recent past. Kazakhstan continued to supply much of the cereal deficit in the region and beyond. Winter crops throughout the region are reported in satisfactory condition, which are the most important crops in the region, except in Kazakhstan.
In Central America and the Caribbean, harvesting of the 2003/04 second and third apante crops is about to be completed. Aggregate cereal output in 2003 was estimated at about 1 million tonnes above the last five years' average, particularly due to the recovery of production in Honduras and Nicaragua. However, the crisis of the coffee sector in the sub-region continues to negatively affect the food security of large sections of population. Food assistance is being delivered to the most affected households. In Haiti, the escalation of violence and the civil strife continues to hamper the delivery of critical food aid, especially in the Northern department that was seriously hit by heavy rains and flooding at the end of 2002.
In South America, harvesting of the 2003 wheat crop has been completed in the southern areas of the subregion. Aggregate wheat output in 2003 is estimate at 21.6 million tonnes, 3.6 million tonnes above the previous year's level and above average. This result is mainly due to the record crop obtained in Brazil and the good harvest in Argentina. In Brazil and Chile, harvesting of the 2004 summer maize crop is about to start. In the Andean countries, dry weather in coastal areas of Ecuador seriously affected the cereal planted area. By contrast, heavy rains have been reported in various departments of Bolivia and Colombia with serious damages to housing and infrastructure. In Colombia and Venezuela harvesting of coarse grains is well advanced and an above-average output is estimated.
In Europe, a strong recovery in cereal production is expected in the EU in 2004 after drought sharply reduced output last year. The winter wheat area is estimated to have increased in response to improved price prospects for the 2004/05 marketing season and a 5 percent reduction in the set-aside requirement should promote an increase in the spring cereal area also. The winter crops are reported to be in generally good condition so far. Among the central and eastern European countries (CEECs), prospects for the winter cereal crops are also generally favourable and planted areas are reported to have increased throughout the region, reflecting favourable autumn weather and the incentive of good price prospects.
In the European CIS, generally favourable weather conditions and ample soil moisture coupled with ample protective snow cover have resulted in lower than average winterkill and satisfactory crop conditions throughout the region. In view of seed and other input shortages in some parts of the Russian Federation and Ukraine, area planted with winter cereals dropped by about 1 million hectares relative to the target in each country. Belarus has maintained the high areas planted with winter cereals, while in Moldova areas under winter cereals are below expectations. The governments in the region are hoping to offset the reduced winter cereal areas by increasing areas planted in spring. The region lost its place in the international cereal export market following significant crop failures in Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Moldova.
In the Balkans, favourable weather conditions and sufficient access to farm inputs encouraged farmers to match areas planted with winter cereals in 2001/02, when above-average harvest was collected. Winter crop conditions are reported to be satisfactory but it is too early to forecast the output, given the volatile nature of weather conditions in the region. Last year the region suffered significant crop losses following unusually cold winter and very dry summer.
In North America, the latest information points to a reduction in wheat output in 2004 in the United States. The total area sown to winter wheat declined by 3 percent and the yield potential of some crops is expected to have been reduced by dry conditions at planting while the risk of winterkill has also increased this year due to limited snow cover. The 2003 wheat output was the highest of the past five years at 63.6 million tonnes. In Canada, the grain crops are mostly sown in May/June. Early tentative forecast point to an increase in the aggregate cereal production in 2004, which would largely result from increased yields as the aggregate area sown is estimated to decrease.
In Oceania, the 2003 cereal production in Australia recovered strongly from the previous year's drought-reduced crop, being officially estimated in December at 36.3 million tonnes (2002: 19 million tonnes). Early prospects for the 2004 summer coarse grain crop (mostly sorghum) are very favourable reflecting good rains in the main producing areas.
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