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16 December 2013, Rome - Farmers in the Central African Republic need urgent assistance to prevent the food security situation in the conflict-stricken country from worsening for millions of people, FAO warned today.
According to the FAO-supported Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, about 1.29 million people, or more than 40 percent of the country's rural population, are in need of urgent assistance – nearly double the estimated level in February 2013.
These numbers will increase dramatically next year if farmers are not able to prepare for the upcoming planting season, the Organization said.
Crop production has decreased sharply this year after civil conflict that broke out in the north-east of the Central African Republic in December 2012 spread through the rest of the country.An estimated 500 000 people have fled their homes in fear and many farmers have not been able to access their fields.
"Seeds have been in short supply due to looting and because people have had to eat them instead of saving them for planting," said Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division.
"Desperate farmers have been selling tools and livestock so that they can feed their families, which leaves them without means of making an income, and raids on livestock and agricultural equipment have been widespread."
A further decrease in agricultural output will severely undermine the country's economy, according to FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).
Agriculture accounts for 53 percent of national GDP and a major share of employment in the country, where nearly three quarters of the population live in rural areas.
Agricultural exports – one of the country's main sources of foreign exchange earnings – have dropped sharply this year, especially timber, cotton and coffee.
Food prices in the country are high and volatile due to severe market disruption. Maize prices in the capital city, Bangui, rose 31 percent between January and November 2013, while millet prices increased by 70 percent between March and October in Ouham province, an important sorghum and millet producing area in the northwest.
Due to the challenges in reaching affected farming families, work must begin now to help them get ready for the 2014 planting seasons, FAO said.
Planting of the main 2014 maize crop is due to start in early March in the centre and south of the country, while planting of sorghum and millet should start in the north of the country in May.Farmers urgently need seeds and other agricultural inputs in time for planting in March.
"The recent upscaling in peacekeeping operations in the country is expected to create favourable conditions for farmers to return to their fields," said Bukar Tijani, FAO Regional Representative for Africa. "This is why we need to get inputs to them urgently. Failure to assist them will bring a serious deterioration of the food security situation and a massive need for protracted food assistance."
A UN-coordinated humanitarian appeal is requesting $241 million to help 1.8 million people in the Central African Republic. The food security cluster, led by FAO and the World Food Programme, is seeking $61 million to help 500 000 people. FAO is mobilizing funds and personnel in time for the March planting season, including an allocation of $1.2 million from its own emergency funding mechanisms