U.N. warns of world cereals shortfall in 1999

by Teresa Acklin
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   ROME, ITALY — Global cereals output is failing to meet expected demand in 1999, sending reserves below levels needed to assure world food security, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in its recent, bi-monthly Food Outlook.

   Heavy drains on the food supply have been compounded by the mass exodus of refugees from Kosovo, the F.A.O. said, which has led to calls for continued international aid on a large scale.

   In its initial forecasts for 1999, the F.A.O. put overall production at 1.850 billion tonnes, down from last year's 1.877 billion.

    “If current forecasts materialize, cereal output would not be sufficient to meet expected consumption requirements in 1999-2000 and global cereal stocks accumulated in the last two seasons would have to be drawn down to below safe levels,” the F.A.O. said.

   Production forecasts were very tentative as many of the crops had yet to be sown and others were in the early stages of development, the F.A.O. report said.

   World wheat output was estimated at 580 million tonnes, down 3% from 1998, and coarse grains were forecast at 890 million tonnes, down about 2%. Rice output, however, was estimated to increase marginally to 380 million tonnes from 375 million in 1998.

   Global food consumption of cereals was forecast to expand by 1.7%, maintaining last year's level of 162 kg per person. The F.A.O. raised its forecast for world cereals trade in 1998-99 by 1.6 million tonnes to 205.6 million tonnes, some 7 million tonnes below the previous year.

   The international wheat market remained characterized by sluggish global import demand and large inventories, the organization said, which caused prices to weaken further during February and early March.

   International rice prices remained under downward pressure from large exportable supplies and relatively limited import demand.

   The organization said serious food supply problems persisted in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The report highlighted eastern Africa, where “the number of people in need of food assistance has increased due to poor cereal harvests caused by dry weather and civil strife in several parts.”