Washington and Rome--While overall availability of food has improved in sub-Saharan Africa, millions of people in several countries still rely on food assistance to survive, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said April 7 in its first Africa Report for 2004. The report is a regional and country-by-country breakdown of the crop prospects and food supply situation in sub-Saharan Africa issued three times each year.

According to the report, estimated cereal import requirements in sub-Saharan Africa in 2004 "remain high" but are expected to be lower than last year. Altogether 24 countries in the sub-region are facing food emergencies.

In Eastern Africa, food production has generally improved compared to last year, mainly due to good crops in Ethiopia and Sudan. "However," says the report, "the food situation in parts of Somalia, Eritrea, Tanzania and pastoral areas of Kenya is of particular concern."

In Somalia, an estimated 123,000 people are facing a food security crisis with 95,000 of them in what the report calls "a critical emergency situation," due to the cumulative effects of successive droughts. The recent secondary season harvest produced a cereal crop estimated at just 101,000 tonnes, well below the previous year's output.

In Eritrea, nearly 1.9 million people are currently estimated to be in need of food assistance. The report says there is cause for serious concern, because food assistance pledges have been low and food aid stocks are depleted. As a result both rations and the number of people receiving food assistance have been reduced.

Despite a bumper harvest in Ethiopia last year, "about 7 million people require food assistance, while an additional 2.2 million more will require close monitoring." Following recent pastoral area assessments, relief food requirements for 2004 were estimated at about 100,000 metric tons. Estimates put the amount of maize, Wheat and sorghum that is available for local purchase for humanitarian operations in 2004 at between 300,000 and 350 000 metric tons.

In Kenya, nearly one million people will need assistance this year. Harvesting of the 2003-04 secondary cereal crop, which accounts for some 15 percent of annual production, is complete and is estimated to be slightly below average at 360,000 metric tons of maize. This crop provides the main source of food in the central and eastern provinces of Kenya.

In Tanzania, serious food shortages are reported in several regions, while civil strife in northern parts of Uganda continues to claim the lives of civilians.

The escalating civil conflict in Darfur, in the west of Sudan, has resulted in massive displacements of more than a million people and access to food has been sharply curtailed. People have lost the bulk of their last harvest and the next planting season may be jeopardized if the conflict continues. Overall, Sudan produced a record cereal crop in 2003-04, up 63 percent on last year's crop and about 46 percent above the average of the previous five years.

February and March rains in much of southern Africa generally improved crop prospects, but heavy downpours caused flooding in Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, resulting in substantial crop damage.

The Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar was especially hard hit by cyclones three times since January that damaged more than 740,000 acres (300, 000 hectares) of farm land, damaging vanilla, rice and other crops and affecting some 774,000 people.

In Zimbabwe, "agriculture is severely handicapped by the lack of tillage capacity due to extremely low numbers of tractors and lack of fuel and spare parts." Fertilizer is generally available, but at prices that are unaffordable to many. Escalating inflation, currently over 600 percent annually, is further eroding the purchasing power of the already low levels of income, greatly limiting access to food for some 5.5 million vulnerable people.

In Lesotho, following drought-induced failure of winter crops and erratic rains during the current season, the food supply situation is precarious and the Government has declared a state of food emergency. The Government of Swaziland has also declared a state of food emergency, mainly due to very poor rains this season.

Numbers of vulnerable people requiring food assistance have been revised upwards in Zimbabwe, Angola and Malawi. The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to be a major contributing factor to food insecurity in all countries of southern Africa.

The food supply situation for 2004 in Western Africa is generally favorable, reflecting above average to record harvests in the Sahelian countries and satisfactory crops in almost all other countries, the report says. Markets are well supplied and cereal prices have declined substantially, according to the report. But, in CÔte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone internally displaced people and refugees continue to need food assistance. Also of concern is the threat from desert locusts already well into the development stage in the northern parts of several Sahelian countries as well as in Algeria and Morocco.

The Africa Report is produced by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning Service and is based in part on joint FAO/World Food Programme assessment missions to African countries throughout the year. Several such missions are scheduled for five countries of southern Africa in April/May.

The 24 countries facing food emergencies are:

Angola, Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, CÔte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

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