UN agency reports record cereal crop as Ebola, conflict threaten food security

A farmer works in her cornfield in Swaziland. Southern Africa has had a strong maize harvest in 2014. Photo: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

11 December 2014 – Despite world cereal production likely to reach an all-time record of more than 2.5 billion tonnes in 2014, a total of 38 countries are at risk of food insecurity, including 29 in Africa, with food insecurity worsening in several countries due to civil conflicts, adverse weather and the Ebola outbreak, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report released today.

The latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report shows that while bumper crops in Europe and a record maize output in the United States of America pushed cereal output 0.3 per cent higher than last year, agriculture and food sectors in many countries were hit by significant, damaging shocks.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak, which began when crops were being planted and gathered pace during the farming cycle, led to a reduced harvest. Rice and cassava prices showed “notable increases” in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, and other cities in September. Harvests were also reduced by bad weather in the Sahel region, with agricultural output in Senegal expected to be 38 per cent below average.

Conflict was responsible for serious impacts on food insecurity in several countries, including Syria, where a weak harvest, due to abandoned land, scarce labour, and damaged infrastructure, was exacerbating the effects of worsening civil conflict. An estimated 6.8 million Syrians – some refugees in neighbouring countries – faced severe food insecurity, with the situation in Iraq, where 2.8 million people were displaced, also acutely serious.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), increased violence, coupled with crop production 58 per cent below average, put one third of the population in need of urgent food assistance. Prices of agricultural commodities have shot up by as much as 70 per cent this year and one in four households has resorted to negative coping strategies, including selling productive assets and slaughtering livestock.

Pressure on food supplies also came from refugee movements, the report said, especially from Sudan’s Darfur region, northern Nigeria, the CAR and Mali. More than 6.5 million people need food and livelihood assistance in Chad, South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia.

Nevertheless, the report says that the increase in overall cereal output will outpace projected consumption, boosting cereal stocks to their highest level since 2000 and pushing the worldwide stock-to-use ratio, a proxy measure for supply conditions, to rise to 25.2 percent, its highest level in 13 years.


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