World cereal production this year is forecast to increase 4.3 per cent to a record 2.082 billion tonnes, but despite improved food supplies in many needy countries, 33 nations are in a critical situation, mostly due to conflict and adverse weather, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today. The bulk of the increase is expected in maize, with a bumper crop already being gathered in South America, and a sharp increase in plantings expected in the United States, according to the April issue of FAO’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report. A significant rise in wheat output is also foreseen, with a recovery in some major exporting countries after weather problems last year. FAO forecasts coarse grains production to rise 5.6 per cent to 1.033 billion tonnes, and wheat to increase 4.8 per cent to about 626 million tonnes. Global rice production could rise marginally to 423 million tonnes in milled terms, about 3 million tonnes more than in 2006. Although the forecast is still highly tentative, cereal production for 82 low-income food-deficit countries could remain around the above-average level of 2006, with cereal imports in the 2006/07 marketing year expected to decline in most regions. In southern Africa, preliminary forecasts put total maize production at 14.8 million tonnes, about the same as last year’s below-average crop. Prospects vary considerably from country to country with significant crop losses due to floods in some areas and reduced yields due to long dry weather spells in others. Maize prices have escalated in South Africa, the region’s main exporting country, where inadequate precipitation will reduce yields. This will affect Swaziland, Lesotho and other dependent markets in the region. Meanwhile, food prices have also risen steeply in Madagascar, due to crop damage from excess rainfall. In eastern Africa, following above-average to bumper first season crops in many countries, record cereal output is confirmed for 2006/07, improving the overall food supply situation. But millions of people there still depend on food aid due to a combination of factors including conflict and adverse weather conditions. Moreover, Rift Valley Fever, which broke out in Kenya in late December, has since emerged in southern Somalia and northern Tanzania, killing hundreds of people and much livestock. This is a further blow to the region’s pastoralists, whose herds had been greatly reduced by a severe multi-year drought. Record maize crops are being gathered in South America, where planted area increased in response to strong demand, largely for ethanol production in the United States. Yields also benefited from favourable weather. A good wheat crop is being harvested in Mexico, the main producing country in Central America and the Caribbean. But in Bolivia, contrary to the favourable regional harvest and food outlook, severe weather, ranging from torrential rains in some parts to drought in others, has caused extensive losses to agriculture, livestock, and other assets, threatening the food security of rural communities. 3 April 2007World cereal production this year is forecast to increase 4.3 per cent to a record 2.082 billion tonnes, but despite improved food supplies in many needy countries, 33 nations are in a critical situation, mostly due to conflict and adverse weather, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today.