Unfavorable weather worsens food shortage in Afghanistan: UN

NNI, Saturday 24th July, 1999

ISLAMABAD (NNI): The United Nations Friday predicted a food shortage of 1.13 million tons in 2000 in the war-shattered Afghanistan because of poor quality cereal crops this year.

Mike Sackett of the World Food Programme (WFP) and Bary Stride of the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) told weekly press briefing at the UN Information Center that the shortage is largest in several years.

A field study by the WFP-FAO showed that wheat production fell both in irrigated and rain-fed areas because Afghanistan experienced dry conditions this year, with snowfall being the lowest in 40 years.

Yields were good in the Eastern and southwestern regions due to sufficient water availability while in the Central Northern and Southern regions reduced availability of irrigation waters has diminished yields.

Mike Sockett said Afghan traders were expected to import 800,000 tons of wheat while the WFP planned to supply 206,000 tons to meet the shortage. The WFP has 97,000 in the pipeline for 1999 and would require 45 million dollars in donations to arrange the remaining 109,000 tons. Its emergency food aid targets about 1.2 million Afghans.

The FAO's Bary Strides said the opium crop takes the best-irrigated lands in Afghanistan. The U.N experts believe that poppy was grown on a larger area than 63,000 hectares in 1998.

Some 85 percent of the country's estimated 21 million people depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Only about 12 percent of the country's total land are arable, with 3 percent under forest cover, 46 percent permanent pastures, while the rest (39 percent) is mountainous. About half of the cultivable area is irrigated while the other half is arid of rain-fed.

For 1999 the harvested area for irrigated wheat is expected to be reduced by about 3 percent compared to 1998, largely due to an increase in cash crops (onion, potato, poppy and tree crops such as almonds and apricots) and dry-land wheat plantings, which largely failed. This year's irrigated wheat harvest is expected to yield 1.99 million tones as compared to 2.02 million tones in 1998, a decrease of 1.5 percent.

Low rainfall has caused the failure of the rain-fed wheat crop in the Eastern and Southern regions. Reduced rainfall, yellow rust and other pest damage have reduced potential yields in the northern region. This year's wheat rain-fed harvest is expected to yield 512000 tones, a reduction of 37 percent compared to last year's total of 814000 tones. Overall, there is expected to be a reduction of 11.8% for all wheat crops and a 16% reduction for all cereal crops.

Sockett said the WFP and its partners in Afghanistan will keep the situation under continuous review and will appeal for additional resources should they be needed.

Wheat is the main food crop, accounting for more than three-quarters of food grain production. Since 1995 the agricultural section in Afghanistan has been steadily registering an appreciable recovery. The FAO Crops Project provides improved seed to farmers and the FAO/WFP Food for Seed Programme assists in preserving some improved seed for planning in later years. The UN demining programme has served to increase the agricultural land available for planting.


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