Sahelian food situation mostly encouraging

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afrol News, 11 April - In the Sahelian countries, off-season crops are now being cultivated, and the prospects are generally good, according to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. With a record crop in The Gambia, and average or above average crops in Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania, production was only below average in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger. 

Future prospects are however less favourable than last year in Mauritania and Senegal due to a lower water level in the Senegal river, FAO reports. A series of joint FAO/CILSS Crop Assessment Missions in the 9 CILSS member countries of the Sahel estimated aggregate 2000 cereal production at 9.5 million tonnes.

Following the release of final production figures for Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Niger and revision of rainfed production figures for Mauritania and Senegal, the aggregate output of cereals has been revised to 8.9 million tonnes, which is some 21 percent below the record production in 1999 and 8 percent below the previous five-year average. 

Production was below average in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger, close to average in Mali and Mauritania, and above average in Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and Senegal. A record crop was harvested in The Gambia, according to the FAO report. The food supply situation thus has tightened in parts of the Sahel, notably in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger. Food distributions to the affected populations are underway and the governments have appealed to donors for assistance, FAO reports. 

Cape Verde
The Sahelian archiplelago of Cape Verde was blessed with a year 2000 maize production, estimated at 18,500 tonnes, which is significantly below the 1999 record crop but remains well above average. 

- Following two successive good harvests, the overall food supply situation is satisfactory, FAO assesses. However, local production covers only about a quarter of consumption requirement and the country relies on imports and food aid to cover its needs. "With available stocks and planned commercial imports and food aid for the coming months, markets should remain well supplied with stable prices," FAO erports.

The Gambia
In The Gambia, final estimates for the 2000 cereal production point to a record harvest of 175,600 tonnes, representing an increase of about 16 percent compared to 1999 and 48 percent compared to the previous five years average. 

Following two successive bumper crops in 1999 and 2000, the overall food supply situation is satisfactory, FAO assesses. However, the Central River Division (CRD) North gathered poor crops due to blister beetles and striga infestations in early millet fields. Poor germination of groundnut seed due to high pest infestations at storage level also resulted in reduced groundnut production.

In surrounding Senegal, the aggregate output of cereals in 2000 has been revised to 1,073,000 tonnes, following the release of final production figures for rainfed crops. This is about 14 percent above average, FAO reports.

Following two successive good harvests, FAO assesses the overall food situation in Senegal as satisfactory. "Markets are well supplied. The price of millet and sorghum decreased following harvest and while the price of rice remains stable," the report says. 

Also in dry Mauritania, production of rainfed (dieri) crops was reported to be "well above average". However, planted irrigated areas decreased in Trarza and Brakna and yields are anticipated to be reduced due to late plantings and lack of production credit. Prospects for recession (walo) crops are also less favourable than in the previous year as planted areas decreased due to reduced water levels in the Senegal River.

A joint FAO/CILSS Crop Assessment Mission estimated the 2000 cereal production at 170,000 tonnes, which is 12 percent below the previous year's level and 3 percent below the average of the last five years. 

- The food situation improved in rural areas following good rainfed crops, FAO reports. "Markets are well supplied and prices remain generally stable. However, some populations remain vulnerable, notably in various areas of the two Hodhs, Aftout and Affolé." 

In Mali, FAO assesses the 2000 cereal production at 2,386,300 tonnes, which is 17.5 percent below last year's record, but is very close to the average of the last five years.

Following two successive bumper crops in 1998 and 1999, farmers stocks have been replenished. They were estimated by the national statistical service at 520,000 tonnes just before 2000 harvest. The national security stock is also at its recommended level of 35,000 tonnes (plus 25,000 tonnes in the form of "financial" security stock). "Therefore, the overall food situation is satisfactory," FAO assesses. 

However, some areas may be at risk of food shortages following poor harvests, notably in Mopti, Gao, Kidal, Tombouctou and northern Ségou regions. The SAP (national early warning system) classified 400,000 persons as at risk of "food difficulties" in these regions. It recommended the distribution of 10,790 tonnes millet and sorghum to these populations during 3 months.

Burkina Faso
In Burkina Faso, the situation is more troubled as off-season crops are about to be harvested. Final 2000 production figures have been released by the government and are significantly lower than the FAO estimates from October 2000, which already were pointing to a below-average harvest. The aggregate output of cereals is now estimated at 1,863,000 tonnes, which is 31 percent below 1999 record crop and 23 percent below the average of the previous five years. 

- Following this reduced crop, the overall food supply situation is tight, notably in the north, the centre and the east where cereal production decreased significantly, FAO assesses. "The return of Burkinabé from Côte d'Ivoire to their villages is also putting additional pressure on food supply. However, following 1998 and 1999 successive record crops, some household stocks are still available." 

Prices of cereals remained generally stable and below the 1995-99 average in January and February, except in the north where they increased significantly. The Government has launched a 4,000 tonnes food aid distribution programme for about 68 000 persons in 17 provinces of the north, the centre-north and the east.

Also in Niger, below average crops make the food supply situation tight. The Nigerian statistical services has released the final 2000 production figures, where the cereal output is estimated at 2,143,000 tonnes, which is 25 percent below the 1999 level and about 10 percent below the average of the last five years. 

- Following this below average harvest, the food supply situation is tight in the traditionally food deficit areas, according to the FAO assessment. "Markets are generally well supplied but prices of millet increased significantly in January and February, except in the west where substantial imports of millet from Mali limited price increases."

Some farmers stocks are however still available following 1998 and 1999 good harvests but "food shortages may appear during the lean season," FAO warns. The at-risk zones are notably in Agadez and northern Diffa, Tahoua, Maradi, Tillabery and Zinder departments. The government and donors are selling millet and sorghum at a subsidized price in the areas that experienced production shortfalls. 

Chad is the Sahelian country most affected by bad crops this year. "Yields are lower than last year due to lack of water and grain-eating birds attacks," FAO reports. The UN agency estimated the 2000 cereal production at 890,000 tonnes, which is 28 percent below the 1999 record level and 16 percent below the last five years average.

- Following this reduced harvest, the food supply situation is tight in the structurally deficit zones of the Sahelian zone but farmers stocks are still available following 1998 and 1999 bumper crops, FAO reports. "In the Sudanian Zone, the food situation is also worsening in the rice producing areas, notably in Mayo-Kebbi department. The cotton harvest in the south is also anticipated to be reduced, but groundnut production is good." 

Prices of millet remained mostly stable in the Sahelian zone, except in Mongo area. By contrast, prices of rice increased sharply in the major producing areas of the Sudanian zone of Chad. "The migration of livestock from the Sahelian zone could trigger overgrazing and a shortage of pasture in the Sudanian zone," FAO warns. 

An assessment of the food supply situation in the at-risk zones conducted in early January estimated the at-risk population at 800,000 persons for whom about 40,000 tonnes of cereals are needed. About 700,000 people are also considered moderately vulnerable. A WFP Emergency Operation has recently been approved to provide 27,000 tonnes of food aid to 375,000 beneficiaries in eight departments of the Chadian Sahelian zone.

Sources: Based on FAO

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