Southern Africa: Food situation uncertain

JOHANNESBURG, 2 March (IRIN) - Overall prospects for cereal crops in southern Africa this year remain uncertain. As the region approaches the harvest season, a mixture of erratic rainfall, prolonged dry spells as well as excessive rains have taken their toll, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in its latest report.
Mozambique loses crops

FAO said the devastation visited on Mozambique by flooding has destroyed more than 100,000 hectares of cultivated land where farmers were growing maize, beans, groundnuts and rice. The most affected areas are in the central and southern parts of the country.

Said the FAO report: "Preliminary indications point to an urgent need for seeds and tools to increase plantings once the water has receded." FAO's Director-General Jacques Diouf said on Thursday the agency will send assistance teams to the country to organise the distribution of new seeds and tools to the farmers whose equipment has been washed away. FAO estimates that US $2.5 million in urgent aid is needed to get farmers back to work.

Dry spells threaten Malawi crops

Erratic and patchy rains in Malawi, said the report, have made prospects for the maize crop for the 1999/2000 season uncertain. Although good rains fell in November, which favoured planting activities and benefitted early planted crops, these were followed by prolonged dry spells during December, which severely stressed developing crops. The report said, however, that the overall food supply remains satisfactory following the record cereal crop of last year.

Displaced Angolans malnourished

War-torn Angola, added the report, faces a serious food crisis where over one million internally displaced people require emergency food aid. "Malnutrition is on the increase among the displaced and daily deaths from starvation have been reported," FAO said, adding that a large number of Angolan refugees in Zambia and Namibia also require constant food aid.

Angola, said the report, requires food aid of 180,000 mt for the 1999/2000 marketing year. Added the report: "Of the 123,000 mt of cereals pledged at the end of January, 100,000 mt have been delivered."

Zambia needs rains

FAO said the irregular and patchy rains since the beginning of the season have made Zambia's cereal crop prospects for 1999/2000 uncertain. "Widespread rains are needed soon to avoid reductions in yields," said the report. Estimates of the 1999 wheat crop have been revised downward to 90,000 mt, however, "at this level this is still 27 percent up from the
previous year and is a record level".

Rains benefit South Africa's maize crop

The report said South Africa's overall food supply situation remains satisfactory, despite the reduced coarse grain harvest of last year. "The abundant rains of early February are likely to have benefited the maize crop stressed by below average precipitation in the second and third weeks of January. Preliminary estimates of planted maize point to an increase of 10 percent from last year due to diversion of land from other crops."

However, added the report, the food situation will be difficult for the estimated 100,000 people who lost property during the floods in February.

Floods affect Swaziland's crops

The FAO said the floods that also hit Swaziland last month, leaving fields waterlogged, are likely to have negatively affected crops at a critical development stage. "Although precipitation during the rainy season had been generally adequate, prospects for the 1999/2000 maize crops are uncertain."

Zimbabwe food supply satisfactory

The report stated that although Zimbabwe's harvest outlook is poor as a result of a decline in the area planted from both last year and the average level, growing conditions are generally adequate for the developing crops.

"The overall food supply situation is satisfactory following the recovery on last year's production and adequate levels of maize imports," said the report.


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