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FAO warns of impact of price, currency trends on smallholder incomes

NEW DELHI: Declining international agricultural commodity prices should ease the bill the world’s poorest countries pay for food imports, although the strengthening US dollar poses “serious concerns”, a new United Nations report says.

Worldwide food imports are likely to reach 1.467 trillion dollars in 2018, 3.0 per cent above the previous year’s level but slightly down from the July forecast, according to the Food Outlook, a semiannual publication by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Declining prices for coffee, tea, cocoa and sugar are easing global import costs, although the rising freight charges are expected to offset that effect. For Least-Developed Countries (LDC) and Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDC), sharp drops in the international price of sugar are offsetting rising costs for imported vegetables and cereals.

Broadly speaking, the outlook for global food supplies in the coming year remains in line with earlier assessments, with robust production prospects and inventory levels taming prices.

However, erratic weather, trade policies and currency exchange rates all pose mounting uncertainties, FAO says.

Food Outlook analyses trends and developments in the markets for cereals, the oilseeds complex, sugar, meat, dairy and fish products. The November edition also offers a detailed analysis  of the cassava markets and the protracted decline in international coffee prices. An additional feature article analyses the recent conditions in the global markets for bananas and major tropical fruits, where world trade is foreseen to surge by 18 per cent from last year.

The Food Outlook review of the trends in the main food commodities, including cereals – wheat, maize and rice – points to generally tightening conditions, compared to a robust baseline for supply and stocks.

The focus of this report is on markets for cassava, an important crop for food security with highly regionalised nature. Worldwide production in 2018 is projected by FAO to rise to 277 million tonnes, a 0.5 per cent annual increase after two decades of much more rapid expansion. Trade volumes, meanwhile, are forecast to decline by 36 per cent.

That slowdown mostly reflects uncertainty in Southeast Asia, where cassava is widely grown by smallholders for export to China. China, which typically accounts for two-thirds of world cassava imports, is auctioning off large stockpiles of maize, the crop’s main rival for energy, feed and industrial use, in a process that could last several years. The prospects for an international cassava market expanding beyond Asia “remain largely elusive,” says FAO.

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