ROME, ITALY — Persistent conflicts and climate-related issues are driving high levels of severe food insecurity, particularly in Southern African and Near East countries, which continue to require humanitarian assistance, according to a new report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Some 39 countries, 31 of which are in Africa, seven in Asia and one in the Caribbean (Haiti), are in need of external food assistance, unchanged from three months ago, according to the Crop Prospects and Food Situation report. The FAO said protracted conflicts, extreme weather events and displacement continue hampering food access for millions of vulnerable people.
Civil conflicts and population displacement remain the key drivers of food insecurity in East Africa and the Near East, whereas dry-weather conditions reduced cereal outputs in Southern Africa, according to the report.
The FAO’s latest forecast for global cereal production in 2018 is pegged at 2.587 billion tonnes, a three-year low and 2.4% below last year’s record high level.
Cereal production in the 52 Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) is projected this year at around 490 million tonnes, about 19 million above the past five-year average. The unchanged aggregate output reflects weather-reduced outputs in Southern Africa, Central Asia and the Near East that are foreseen to be offset by production gains in Far East Asia and East Africa.
Civil conflicts, often coupled with climate-related extreme events, have taken their toll on food security of vulnerable populations in Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen among others.
Poor rains in Southern Africa at key cropping stages curbed this year’s cereal production, with the largest reductions reported in Malawi and Zimbabwe.
“In Malawi, with this year’s cereal output estimated to be below average, the number of food insecure people in 2018 could more than double from last year to reach 3.3 million people,” the FAO said. “In Zimbabwe, 2.4 million people are estimated to be food insecure in 2018 as a result of a reduced cereal output and food access constraints stemming from low incomes and liquidity problems of vulnerable households.”
The FAO noted the Near East region also has suffered from insufficient rains that have reduced cereal output, particularly in Afghanistan and Syria. In Syria, around 6.5 million people are estimated to be food insecure and another 4 million people are at risk of food insecurity, according to the report.
Dry weather conditions in South America have lowered cereal output in 2018 from last year’s record, particularly for maize. In Central America and the Caribbean, unfavorable rains also curtailed this year’s maize production, except in Mexico.
“In Far East Asia, cereal production in 2018 is forecast to rise, primarily reflecting gains in Bangladesh and India, with the latter seeing a record wheat output this year due to favorable weather conditions,” the FAO said. “Similarly, in Bangladesh, beneficial weather supported by prospects of remunerative prices triggered an expansion in paddy plantings that drove up cereal production in 2018, following reduced outputs last year.”
Likewise, as a result of beneficial weather, cereal harvests in East Africa are also forecast to rebound from the reduced levels of 2017; however, torrential rains earlier this year and more recently in August resulted in floods causing localized crop losses, according to the FAO.
The 39 countries currently in need of external food assistance are: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini (former Swaziland), Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.