Widespread flooding caused by exceptionally heavy rainfall has destroyed vast areas of cropland in the east of Guinea-Bissau, threatening thousands of families with famine, Agriculture Minister Mamadu Badji said on Monday.
He said 80 percent of Guinea-Bissau's peasant farmers had been adversely affected by flooding and forecast that Guinea-Bissau would have to import about 120,000 tonnes of rice this year - twice as much as usual - to make good the expected shortfall in local food production.
Speaking on his return from a visit to the east of the country, Badji described the situation in the eastern regions of Bafata and Gabu as a calamity. The government would appeal to the international community for food aid, he added.
The agriculture minister said large areas of rice planted along the banks of the Geba river, which runs into northeastern Guinea-Bissau from Senegal, had been destroyed by flooding. Elsewhere in Bafata and Gabu provinces fields of maize and beans were rotting under water, he added.
Meteorologists say the floods have been caused by the wettest rainy season in the Sahel for more than 30 years.
While the abundant rainfall has benefited crops in most of the drought-prone region, it has proved a disaster in Guinea-Bissau, a flat country of low-lying swamps and wide meandering rivers, which floods easily.
Government officials said a team from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was currently touring the interior of this former Portuguese colony of 1.3 million people to evaluate the situation.