Farmers in Central Africa need urgent aid

The UN food agency on Monday estimated 40 percent of the rural population in the Central African Republic -- or around 1+.29 million people -- are in urgent need of assistance because of the conflict ravaging the country.

"Farmers need urgent help to prepare for the upcoming planting seasons," the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a statement.

It said the number of farmers affected was about double the estimated level from February, adding that the numbers would increase "dramatically" next year if farmers are not able to sow their crops.

FAO said crop production in the country had decreased sharply this year because of the conflict, which has forced around 500,000 people to flee their homes and has cut off access to fields for many farmers.

"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.

Burgeon said farmers had sold tools and livestock and raids on livestock and equipment were widespread.

It said a crisis in farming will "severely undermine" the economy since agriculture accounts for 53 percent of the economy and a major share of employment.

Agriculture exports like coffee, cotton and timber -- a key source of foreign exchange earnings -- have dropped this year while food prices are high and volatile.

FAO said maize prices in the capital, Bangui, rose 31 percent between January and November 2013, while millet prices increased by 70 percent between March and October in Ouham, a farming hub in the northwest.

Bukar Tijani, FAO's regional representative for Africa, said the increase in peacekeeping operations was expected to create "favourable conditions" for farmers to return to their fields.

A UN humanitarian appeal is requesting $241 million (175 million euros) to help 1.8 million people in the Central African Republic.