Drought, Disease and War Hit Global Agriculture, Says U.N.

The United Nations has warned that drought, disease and war are preventing farmers from producing enough food for millions of people across Africa and other regions.Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 2019 – The United Nations has warned of drought, disease and war preventing farmers from producing enough food for millions of people across Africa and other regions, leading to the need for major aid operations.

A report called the Crop Prospects and Food Situation by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that shortages of grain and other foodstuffs have left people in 41 countries — 31 of them in Africa — in need of handouts.

“Ongoing conflicts and dry weather conditions remain the primary causes of high levels of severe food insecurity, hampering food availability and access for millions of people,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters on Tuesday.

Southern Africa has experienced both dry spells and rainfall damage from Cyclone Idai, which made landfall in Mozambique on Mar. 14. The storm caused “agricultural production shortfalls” and big “increases in cereal import needs,” added Haq. 

Farmers in Zimbabwe and Zambia have seen harvests decline this year. Some three million people faced shortages at the start of 2019, but food price spikes there will likely push that number upwards in the coming months, researchers say.

In eastern Africa, crop yields have dropped in Somalia, Kenya and Sudan due to “severe dryness”, added Haq. 

According to the FAO, life for rural herders in Kassala State, in eastern Sudan, has been upended by a drought that has forced them to move livestock away from traditional grazing routes in pursuit of greener pastures.

“Life would be so hard if our livestock died. We wouldn’t have food or milk for the children,” Khalda Mohammed Ibrahim, a farmer near Aroma, in Kassala State, told FAO. “When it is dry, I am afraid the animals will starve — and then we will too.”

Droughts are getting worse, says the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). By 2025, some 1.8 billion people will experience serious water shortages, and two thirds of the world will be “water-stressed”.

In Asia, low yields of wheat and barley outputs are raising concerns in North Korea, where dry spells, heatwaves and flooding have led to what has been called the worst harvests the hermit dictatorship has seen in a decade, the report said.

More than 10 million North Koreans — or 40 percent of the country’s population — are short of food or require aid handouts, the U.N.’s Rome-based agency for agriculture said in its 42-page study.

FAO researchers also addressed the spread of a deadly pig disease in China that has disrupted the world’s biggest pork market and is one of the major risks to a well-supplied global agricultural sector.

China is grappling with African swine fever, which has spread across much of the country this past year. There is no cure or vaccine for the disease, often fatal for pigs although harmless for humans.

By the middle of June, more than 1.1 million pigs had died or been culled. The bug has also been reported in Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, North Korea and Laos, affecting millions of pigs and threatening farmers’ livelihoods.

The FAO forecast a five percent fall in Chinese pork output this year, while imports were predicted to rise to almost two million tonnes from an average 1.6 million tonnes per year from 2016 to 2018.

Conflict is another worry, the FAO said. While Syria and Yemen have seen “generally conducive weather conditions for crops”, fighting between government forces, rebels and other groups in both countries has ravaged agriculture.

Violence in Yemen has triggered what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.3 million people displaced and 24.1 million — more than two-thirds of the population — in need of aid.

Last month, the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) announced a “partial suspension” of aid affecting 850,000 people in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, saying the Houthi rebels that run the city were diverting food from the needy.

Likewise, in Africa, simmering conflicts in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan have caused a “dire food security situation”. In  South Sudan, seven million people do not have enough food.

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