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Most severe drought in memory drastically reduces crops in Moldova, UN reports

Most severe drought in memory drastically reduces crops in Moldova, UN reports

Severe drought affects crops
The most severe drought in living memory has drastically reduced crops in Moldova, driving up food prices and cutting access for poor households, according to a new United Nations report issued today.

“Reduced yields not only affected overall production, but drastically reduced returns on leased land and on labour, hitting small farmers, who usually receive in-kind payments of wheat, corn and oil, particularly hard,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Information and Early Warning System Chief Henri Josserand said.

The small Eastern European country with a population of about 4.5 million, has recorded nine significant dry periods or droughts since 1990 and this year’s drought can be compared with that of 1946, during which many Moldovans starved to death, according to the joint report by the FAO and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

A FAO/WFP mission observed that many lakes and rivers, usually full to capacity at this time of year, were dry and the water table in some areas had receded by almost two metres. “Moldova’s 2007 drought has been the most severe in living memory and represents the extreme manifestation of a trend towards drier weather conditions in the country,” Mr. Josserand said.

Household production from home gardens, a mainstay of food for most rural families, which comprise 70 percent of the population, is down sharply, the report said. Lack of pasture and fodder, and the need to purchase increasingly expensive food have forced the majority of households to sell a substantial share of their livestock, a key component of household financial and food security.

While lending to Moldova’s agricultural sector is relatively small, debt outstanding is on the order of $30.5 million for small farms and farmers’ associations, and over $100 million for private agricultural enterprises. Unless these loans are re-scheduled, the report predicts that the current failed cropping season may be followed by a delayed or sharply curtailed one due to producers’ inability to afford inputs.

“Government-funded social assistance programmes, such as allowances to vulnerable groups, expanded school canteen programmes and cash-for-public-work programmes, urgently need to be stepped up,” WFP Regional Assessment Officer Asif Niazi said, pledging technical support to the government from its regional office in Cairo as WFP does not have an office in Moldova.

Among its recommendations, the report urged provision of agricultural inputs for October planting, subsidies for livestock feed to prevent further sell-off of animals, and relief on land taxes and essential food import duties. Given the prevalence of anaemia in the country, it said that imported wheat should be fortified.

Medium-term measures should consist of rebuilding the national herd, improved seed production, and appropriate crop mix and water resources for home gardens, while the longer term will require a more sustainable strategy for the agricultural sector, and greater and less expensive access to credit and agricultural insurance, including weather-indexed risk management instruments.