FAO/GIEWS - Foodcrops & Shortages 11/99 - Russia

Current production this year is projected to be above last year's poor crop, despite a sharp reduction in area and locust infestation in parts. Although growing conditions have been mixed, overall yields were 8 percent higher than last year. Yields were much higher in the area from North Caucasus to the Ural Region and in part of East Siberia. East of the Urals growing conditions were generally better but inflation, shortage of inputs and untimely rains in parts, led to delays in harvest and lower yields than last year. Official sources forecast 1999 grain and pulse production at 58 million tonnes (bunker weight) or 53 million tonnes cleaned weight. However, in view of restrictive grain marketing policies and shortage of cash, there is consensus that production estimates are underestimated by as much as 10- 20 percent. FAO, therefore, forecasts 1999 grain output at about 59 million tonnes, 11 million tonnes higher than official output in 1998. Aggregate grain area fell by 8 percent to 46.8 million hectares. This decline is due to increased winterkill in 1999 (2.75 million hectares compared to 2.1 million hectares in 1998) and a 3 million hectares decline, to 35.4 million hectares, in spring area. Hot/dry weather in summer further reduced the harvested area. The grain supply situation in 1999/2000 will remain tight, with no possibility of stock replenishment following the sharp drawdown last year. In addition, economic problems and policies which act as a disincentive to farmers, point to little improvement in output next year. Therefore, the tight supply situation is likely to continue and priority will have to be given to meeting human consumption needs. The livestock sector is likely to remain under pressure. FAO estimates minimum cereal requirement in 1999/2000 (including 1 million tonnes of pulses) at 70 million tonnes. Against this requirement, cereal availability, with rice in milled equivalent and opening stocks is estimated at 63 million tonnes, leaving an import requirement of at least 6 million tonnes to be covered by commercial imports and food aid. Outstanding deliveries of food aid pledged in 1998/99 amount to about 2.7 million tonnes (1.5 million tonnes wheat, 125 000 tonnes of rice, about 800 000 tonnes of maize and 300 000 tonnes of rye), leaving an import requirement of 3.2 million tonnes to be met commercially. Between 3.7 and 4 million tonnes of cereals were mobilized commercially in 1995/96 and 1996/97. With a good harvest and a sizeable export surplus of up to 7 million tonnes in neighbouring Kazakhstan, this level of commercial imports should be feasible in 1999/2000. In view of tight supplies and distribution problems, the government has requested over 4 million tonnes of grain in food aid, including 1 million tonnes of food quality wheat, and 1 million tonnes of soybeans. Such a large additional quantity of aid for the second year in succession risks making the country dependent on food aid. However, given that there is a shortage of feed grain along with a distribution problem, it may be possible to provide assistance in the form of maize, soybeans and meal, which do not compete directly with the domestic production The unfolding humanitarian crisis in Chechnya has led to the displacement of some 250 000 people, mostly to neighbouring Ingushetia. The government of Ingushetia, a small country of 300 000 inhabitants, has requested international assistance to feed and shelter the large number of refugees. These people are urgently in need of humanitarian assistance, food, shelter, blankets and health supplies. Their plight will get worse as the winter advances. The intensified military action in Chechnya has resulted in deaths and serious damage to infrastructure, property and agriculture. Although the plight of the refugees in Ingushetia and other neighbouring areas is a cause of immediate concern, the food security of the civilian population trapped in the capital, Grozny, is rapidly deteriorating. Substantial humanitarian assistance will be required in the coming months. The outlook for winter grains, for harvest in the spring of 2000 is unfavourable. Some 12.4 million hectares have been planted, compared to 13.2 at the same time last year.