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Media Advisory: FAO/WFP joint reports on crop and food situation in four West African countries following locust threat

FAO/WFP joint reports on crop and food situation in four West African countries released on web

In the wake of recent threats from Desert Locusts, FAO and WFP released the results of joint assessment missions to Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.

The reports will be posted at the following URLs from 14H00 today, 21 December 2004:


FAO: http://www.fao.org/giews/english/alert/index.htm

WFP: http://www.wfp.org/operations/emergency_needs/assessment.asp
Following is an overview of reports on the crop and food prospects in four countries: *


Mali

The locust threat, first reported in June in the northern part of the country, was evident in July and, by August and September, most of the regions above the 14th parallel had been affected by infestations of desert locusts.

The largest crop losses due to locust infestation affected the production of non-rainfed millet (37 000 tonnes), cowpeas (3 000 tonnes) and sorghum (9 000 tonnes). Although these losses were spectacular and extensive at the local level in a good number of the 78 communes affected, national cereal production is largely guaranteed by the zones situated further south of the regions affected and Sikasso region.

Given the relatively limited area and importance of the agricultural zones infested by locusts, total cereal production for 2004-2005, which should reach 2 933 000 tonnes, is up by 11 percent compared with the averages for 1999-2000 and 2003-2004. This figure is equal to 86 percent of the exceptional volume of production recorded last year.

Market supplies have been satisfactory throughout this year following excellent harvests in the 2003/04 season. Until September, cereal prices were significantly down compared with the previous season. However, in the zones affected by locust invasion, prices have begun to increase since July (the critical lean period) despite a relatively good level of supplies to markets in these areas.

For the 2004/05 season, cereal supplies have been assessed at 2 934 000 tonnes as against the 2 951 700 tonnes required and so 17 700 tonnes will have to be imported. In practice, this indicates a balanced situation for the country if exports are maintained. On average, Mali imports nearly 100 000 tonnes of cereals according to government statistics but it exports the same amount. The risk of a cereals shortage this year is therefore very low.

The markets should be well supplied. Prices will be higher than in 2004 when they were particularly low following record harvests in the 2003 season, but the food situation countrywide should be satisfactory.

Nevertheless, in the zones infested by desert locusts, the millet and cowpea crops have been practically destroyed. The price of cereals will clearly rise in these areas and the local populations will have few resources to pay for them. Their food situation will therefore be precarious. Some form of assistance should be planned urgently to address a food crisis in these regions.

Mauritania

Devastating infestations of desert locusts in the main agricultural zones of Mauritania were noted from the start of the rains for the seedlings in June and July. The nature and extent of the damage varied according to the type of crops, the density and duration of the locust infestation in the fields, and the stage of crop development at the time of the invasion. Millet and legumes (cowpeas and groundnut) were almost entirely destroyed. Sorghum and rice were less severely affected.

There was insufficient rainfall for good crop and pasture development in many areas which, combined with the damage caused by the desert locusts, caused further crop losses. The level of water in the reservoirs and the River Senegal valley was well below normal which will probably harm production.

Cereal production this year has been estimated at 101 200 tonnes, a loss of about 44 percent in relation to last year's results and 36 percent less than the average for the last five years.

For the 2004/05 season, domestic supplies of cereals have been estimated at 101 200 tonnes against expected consumption of 478 200 tonnes and so total import requirements are 377 000 tonnes. Commercial imports have been forecast at 281 600 tonnes and announced food aid will bring in 31 100 tonnes. The uncovered cereal deficit is 64 300 tonnes.

At the moment, the markets are well stocked with imported food (rice and wheat) but the supply of dry cereals and cowpeas is very low because national production stocks have run out and supplies from Mali have fallen sharply as a result of the combination of drought and the locust invasion which has also affected that country's border zone.

The price of food is rising throughout the country and it is very likely that it will continue to rise in the months to come. For many rural households, access to food is already problematic. The risk of the country suffering a food crisis as in 2002/03 is currently very high.

Niger

Factors influencing the 2004 crop year in Niger are basically of two kinds:

Insufficient rainfall, which is particularly affecting the agri-pastoral and northern areas of the country. The first rains were recorded in several places in the month of April when planting could begin in some 1 500 villages compared with 950 in the same period in 2003. However, when planting was well under way, in May the rains stopped, according to zone, for a period of three to six weeks, with very harmful effects for the seeds in the northern zones of several departments. This meant that replanting was necessary as soon as the rains began again in July.

The phytosanitary situation has been dominated by locust infestations. The infiltration of swarms of desert locusts in the crop zone was observed beginning in August, followed by hatching of hoppers on a massive scale. The mission saw vast stretches of crops and pastures devastated by the desert locusts as they moved across the region. Towards the end of October, some 195 000 infested hectares had been treated.

This situation led to a large fall in levels of crop yields for millet and sorghum in all the regions affected by the desert locust and drought.

It proved difficult to establish exactly the part of the damage that could be attributed specifically to locusts. Nevertheless the mission estimated that locust infestation was responsible for a third of all losses and the rest could be attributed to other factors, in particular drought.

It should be noted that some zones which were not affected by locusts enjoyed fairly good rainfall and these areas recorded good harvests in 2004.

Net cereal production for 2004/2005 has been estimated at about 2 651 571 tonnes of millet, sorghum, maize, rice and fonio. The provisional cereal deficit for 2004/05, having taken into account estimated commercial imports, is 278 350 tonnes, or about nine percent of national needs, estimated at 3 156 660 tonnes.


Senegal

On the basis of data supplied by the various services of the Ministry of Agriculture and observations made in the field, a review of the 2004 crop season in Senegal revealed that the main natural factors that have most influenced production (to different degrees and with regional and departmental variations) are connected with:

· The phytosanitary situation, dominated by locust invasion, but also marked by exceptional infestations of habitual predators such as grasshoppers, soldier beetles and other flower-eating insects.
· The worsening of the rainfall situation in that, in a great many places, the growing season started late, there were long periods with no rain, and the rains finished early.

These factors have affected agricultural production and the pastures to different degrees, sometimes in the same way and/or only locally according to the regions or departments concerned.

The locust invasion

Of Senegal's 11 regions, seven have been affected to varying degrees by the locust invasion. The first infiltrations of swarms of desert locusts coming from Mauritania were observed in the northern border areas beginning in June 2004. Then the infestation spread, engulfing vast stretches in the north and centre-south of the country and causing widespread damage to crops and pastures.

Irrigated crops in the valley of the River Senegal have not as yet undergone very much damage. The main part of the rice and market-garden crops have been spared.

The large cereal production areas, generally considered to be vulnerable due to their dependence on uncertain rainfall, have not suffered from locusts either.

As regards pastures, big losses due to desert locusts were recorded in the regions of Louga and Saint-Louis. However, the fodder biomass was only slightly affected in the regions of Diourbel and Matam which also suffered massive locust infestation.

Other pests affecting crops

In a great many places in the centre-south, the endemic pests such as grasshoppers, soldier beetles and other flower-eating insects caused much greater damage this year than in previous seasons, aggravating the situation in areas already affected by the desert locust.

Effects of the rainfall situation on crops and pastures

In some areas, the damage caused by grasshoppers and other predators has compounded the harmful effects of the late start to the growing season, dry spells, the early end of the last rains on planted areas, crop development and yields. Therefore the erratic start to the rainy season combined with the ravages of the grasshoppers meant that re-planting was necessary in a good many places.

Production estimate and provisional cereal balance

Overall, estimates of total cereal production for the 2004 season, amounting to some 1 132 700 tonnes, are clearly down (by 22 percent) compared with the previous season, but are still close to the average for the last five years. As regards consumption requirements, and given the extra off-season production estimated at about 52 366 tonnes, stocks and planned imports, the provisional net cereal deficit for 2004/2005 is about 878 330 tonnes. The deficit could be made good by commercial imports of rice and wheat, and by a forecast 6 780 tonnes of rice in aid. The forecast commercial imports of rice and wheat are higher than this level.

The downturn in cereal production, particularly for millet, is explained principally by a reduction in the growing areas to the benefit of groundnut in particular. In fact in 2004 groundnut benefited from State support in the form of subsidized seeds and fertilizers, leading to an increase of about 30 percent in growing areas.

Other crops such us maize and cassava have also expanded remarkably as a result of special government programmes supporting production and crop diversification.

The strong return of the groundnut and the good results of the maize and cassava crops should, at the national level and for the households directly involved, largely compensate for the drop in millet production.

Pockets of vulnerability and adaptation strategies for the populations concerned

The above-mentioned fall in cereal production is by no means considerable nor unusual at the national level since the regions attacked by the locusts and/or hit hard by drought only account for 20 percent of national cereal production. As the mission observed, the anticipated shortage of millet on some markets has been pushing up millet prices since September 2004. It is feared that the food situation of vulnerable households will be further endangered if this trend continues.


We can see that in the most affected regions, in terms of family resources, rainfed agriculture comes after livestock breeding, remittances from migrants, and irrigated crops. Nevertheless, in these regions, the rural families for whom rainfed agriculture constitutes the main, and often the only, source of revenue, are going to find themselves in difficulties. This means that there will be pockets of vulnerability and so correct targeting by means of specific surveys will be necessary. Some regions are already planning to do this.

In the meantime, the families whose livelihoods have been further damaged by the situation described above, are reacting by bringing forward the seasonal migration and transhumance of livestock, by selling some of their animals as indicated previously, or by attempting off-season market gardening, and by actively seeking income-generating activities.

The mission estimated that about 124 300 vulnerable households, i.e. 20 percent of rural households need emergency agricultural assistance.

* Because of differences in methodologies some figures in the FAO/WFP reports may differ from figures produced by CILSS/national governments. The FAO/WFP reports are based on global standards.

For further information, journalists can contact:

FAO
John Riddle
Information Officer,
(+39) 06 570 53259
John.Riddle@fao.org

WFP
Caroline Hurford
Information Officer, WFP
(+39) 06 6513 2330
Caroline.Hurford@wfp.org

WFP
Ramin Rafirasme
Regional Public Information Officer
World Food Programme
West and Central Africa
(+221) 849 6500
Ramin.Rafirasme@wfp.org