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Harvests, food security and El Niño

Photo credit: FAO

 A Zimbabwean subsistence farmer holds a stunted maize cob in his field outside Harare.

 

El Niño set to have a devastating impact on southern Africa’s harvests and food security

Joint statement by FAO, EC-JRC, FEWS NET and WFP

FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; FEWS NET – Famine Early Warning Systems Network; JRC – European Commission’s Joint Research Centre;WFP – World Food Programme

12 February 2016, Rome –
Southern Africa is currently in the grip of an intense drought that has expanded and strengthened since the earliest stages of the 2015-2016 agricultural season, driven by one of the strongest El Niño events of the last 50 years.

Across large swathes of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Madagascar, the current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years. Agricultural areas in northern Namibia and southern Angola have also experienced high levels of water deficit.

Much of the southern African sub-region has consequently experienced significant delays in planting and very poor conditions for early crop development and pasture re-growth. In many areas, planting has not been possible due to 30 to 50 day delays in the onset of seasonal rains resulting in widespread crop failure.

Although there has been some relief since mid-January in certain areas, the window of opportunity for the successful planting of crops under rain-fed conditions is nearly closed. Even assuming normal rainfall for the remainder of the season, cropwater balance models indicate poor performance of maize over a widespread area.

Seasonal forecasts from a variety of sources (1) are unanimous in predicting a continuation of below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures across most of the region for the remainder of the growing season.

The combination of a poor 2014-2015 season, an extremely dry early season (October to December) and forecasts for continuing hot and drier-than-average conditions through mid-2016, suggest a scenario of extensive, regional-scale crop failure.

South Africa has issued a preliminary forecast of maize production for the coming harvest of 7.4 million tonnes, a drop of 25 percent from the already poor production levels of last season and 36 percent below the previous five-year average.

These conditions follow a 2014-2015 agricultural season that was similarly characterized by hot, dry conditions and a 23percent drop in regional cereal production.

Read the full article: FAO

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.