September 18, 2008
Drought to slash Mid-East and South Asian wheat output in 2008/09
Wheat production in the Middle East and Central Asia is area is expected to drop 22 percent from 58.38 million  tonnes in 2007/08 to 45.58 million  tonnes by 2008/09, according to a Commodity Intelligence Report released Sep 16 by the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA. 

Among the worst affected are countries like Afghanistan, Israel, Syria and Jordan, where wheat production  is expected to drop by more than 50 percent.


Wheat production in Pakistan, the biggest producer in the region, is expected  to drop 7.7 percent to 21.5 million tonnes.

The Middle East and Central Asia regions are currently in the grip of one of the worst droughts in recent history. Widespread failure of rain-fed grain crops occurred in 2008/09, as well as sizable declines in irrigated crop area and yield, according to the report.


Food grain production dropped to some of the lowest levels in decades, spurring governments to enact grain export bans and resulting in abnormally large region-wide grain imports. Should drought continue into the 2009/10 growing season which begins in October, even greater declines in grain production will occur as planted area for both rain-fed and irrigated crops will be severely restricted, the report said.


A second year of severely reduced grain harvests would imply significantly increased regional grain import requirements.


The report said among countries facing grain shortage, Afghanistan is the most vulnerable, owing to its lack of financial resources for large-scale grain imports and lack of institutional expertise to plan and execute such imports. Food shortage in countries like Pakistan and Iraq could also destabilise the country.


Given the scarcity of accurate information from regional governments, it is possible the grain shortfall was even more significant.


The region normally starts planting operations for staple crops (wheat and barley) from October to December. Huge regional failures of 2008/09 grain crops in major rain-fed growing areas of Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan occurred, implying a potentially significant shortage of viable planting seed this year, the report said.


The drought-decimated northern Iraq region has inadequate seed reserves and has not received needed supplies.


Irrigated agriculture has been expanding in the Middle East and Central Asia for decades, especially in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. However, the severity of the drought in 2008/09 have critically reduced irrigation supplies.


Surface water flow through the major Tigris and Euphrates river watershed is at very low levels, partly owing to severely reduced rainfall throughout the watershed, but also owing to restrictions on releases from upstream reservoirs in Turkey, Iran, and Syria.


In addition, reports indicated a significant reduction in irrigation reserves in the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan following three consecutive years of below-normal winter precipitation.


Virtually all countries in the Middle East region are critically short of water, and are enacting restrictions on usage.


Should rainfall continue to be below normal in the September to December planting period, it would be expected that even greater restrictions would be put on irrigated agricultural acreage in 2009/10.

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