Photo Credit: Nico Heerink / IFPRI

The FAO’s latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report for 2016 forecasts world cereal production at 2,578 million tonnes, 1.7 percent above 2015 cereal output. This gain is being driven mainly on larger maize and wheat crops. The Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report is published four times a year and provides a review of the food situation by geographic region; it also includes a section dedicated to Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDC) and a list of countries requiring external food assistance.

According to this latest release, global maize output was 2.1 percent higher in 2016 than in 2015 (1,027 million tonnes compared to 1,005 million tonnes). The increase in global production largely reflects record high output from the US, as well as notable gains from the EU, India, and Ukraine. Taken together, increases in these regions offset El Niño related reductions in yields in Brazil and Southern Africa.

Global wheat production also grew in 2016, up 1.9 percent from 2015 (749 million tonnes compared to 735 million tonnes). Favorable weather in North America boosted yields in the US and Canada, and yields in India reached record highs. The report also forecasts that harvests in Australia will be the largest in five years. The global increase in wheat output was somewhat slowed, however, by falling yields in the EU and Morocco.

The report also estimates global rice production for 2016 could reach an all-time high of 498.5 million tonnes; this would also mark the first expansion in global production since 2013. Rice production in Asia has recovered in recent months following the dissipation of the 2015-2016 El Niño cycle, allowing yields to increase to 450.7 million tonnes. Increased production has also been seen in India, China, Nepal, the Philippines, and Thailand. Rice production is more mixed in other regions; output grew in northern Africa but declined in southern Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. In this latter region, 2016 production is at a five-year low due to unfavorable weather conditions. Australia is also expected to see a decline in production due to dry conditions, but this should be more than offset by positive production prospects in the US, EU, and Russian Federation.

The FAO forecasts favorable growing conditions and production in 2017 as regions continue to recover from the 2015-2016 El Niño cycle.

Despite these favorable global trends, however, 39 countries are still in need of external food aid, according to the report. This represents an increase of six countries in need of aid from December 2015. Countries in need of external food aid include 28 in Africa, 9 in Asia, 1 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 1 in Oceania. The major drivers behind this persistent need for food aid include continuing conflict (particularly in Nigeria and South Sudan) and weather-related shocks, due largely to the 2015-2016 El Niño phenomenon.

The report’s list of LIFDCs is composed of 37 countries in Africa, 12 in Asia, 3 in Central America and the Caribbean, and 2 in Oceania. In 2016, cereal outputs for this group as a whole were revised from September by 1 percent, driven by increased yields in West Africa and India. For LIFDCs in Africa south of the Sahara, aggregate cereal production rose 3.4 higher than 2015. In Central Africa, continuing conflict has depressed production, resulting in near-average yields for 2016 that are largely unchanged from last year. In contrast, production in southern Africa is expected to be down significantly from its five-year average, driven largely by El Niño-related drought in the region.

Among LIFDCs in Asia, aggregate cereal production is forecast up 5 percent from 2015, stemming largely from a 15 million tonne increase in India. However, cereal production in the Near East is expected to be well below its five-year average, and conflicts in Afghanistan, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen have posed significant challenges for agricultural output in the region.

The report forecasts that cereal imports in the LIFDCs will increase by 1.4 percent from last year, driven mostly by increased need in southern Africa.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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