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

East Africa still lacks wells and other forms of water infrastructure



El Niño leaves hunger in its wake


Lou Del Bello

An estimated 10.2 million people are now food insecure in Ethiopia, as a result of an exceptional drought exacerbated by the El Niño event that began last year. The situation not only in the country but also across the whole of East Africa is predicted to worsen in coming months.

After peaking in late December, the warming El Niño phenomenon is slowly fading, with Pacific Ocean surface temperatures starting to decrease. But as public attention declines, a food crisis brought about by last year’s erratic weather is fast becoming an emergency.

East Africa, and Ethiopia in particular, has experienced reduced rainfall in 2015. This has been disastrous for farmers and herders. Aid agencies have described this crisis as the most severe in 30 years — and many warn that the worst is yet to come.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network: “Poor households in southern Afar and northern Somali regions are already experiencing acutefood insecurity, and the breadth and severity of impacts in central and eastern Ethiopia are expected to expand through much of 2016.”

The consequences of a lack of rain between June and September will be seen between now and March, during the main cropping season in northern East Africa. Traditionally, January marks the start of the harvesting period, when markets are usually replenished, but this year’s yields are predicted to be dire, and fodder scarce.

Read the full story: SciDevNet

A major step towards food and financial security



Photo credit: EARS Earth Environment Monitoring

El Nino drought hits Southern Africa

The map presents evapotranspiration in the southern Africa region during the last two months of 2015, relative to the previous 5 year average. It is derived from Meteosat by EARS Earth Environment Monitoring in the Netherlands, a company specialized in satellite data for climate, water and food.

Evapotranspiration is closely related to plant available water and crop growth and is therefore the best possible indicator of agricultural drought.  In the map red and black colors point to crop water shortages of 50-100 mm.  This may lead to crop production losses of 30% and more. According to the World Food Program 14 million people in the region are facing hunger. Maize prices already hit record highs.

Based on 33 years of Meteosat data, EARS is developing drought index insurance solutions. In this way drought disasters can better be resisted and overcome.  The new satellite based technology is therefore considered a major step towards food and financial security.

Contact: andries.rosema@ears.nl, joost.vanderwoerd@ears.nl

El Niño-exacerbated drought, hunger and funding

Photo credit: FAO

Wildlife. UN Photo/E Darroch


Funding shortfall threatens UN efforts to counter El Niño-exacerbated drought in southern Africa

With 14 million people facing hunger in southern Africa as the El Niño weather pattern, the worst in over three decades, exacerbates drought, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that it faces critical funding challenges in scaling up food and cash-based aid.

“The number of people without enough food could rise significantly over coming months as the region moves deeper into the so-called lean season, the period before the April harvest when food and cash stocks become increasingly depleted,” WFP said in a news release. “Particularly vulnerable are smallholder farmers who account for most agricultural production.”

The cyclical El Niño pattern of devastating droughts on some regions and catastrophic floods in others that can affect tens of millions of people around the globe, is already leading to even worse drought across southern Africa, affecting this year’s crops.

With little or no rain falling in many areas and the window for the planting of cereals closing fast or already closed in some countries, the outlook is alarming.

“Driving through southern Zambia, I saw fields of crops severely stressed from lack of water and met farmers who are struggling to cope with a second season of erratic rains,” WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said at the end of a visit to drought-prone southern Zambia.

“Zambia is one of the biggest breadbaskets in the region and what’s happening there gives serious cause for concern not only for Zambia itself but all countries in the region.”

Worst affected by last year’s poor rains are Malawi with 2.8 million people facing hunger, Madagascar with nearly 1.9 million, and Zimbabwe with 1.5 million and last year’s harvest reduced by half compared to the previous year due to massive crop failure.

In Lesotho, the Government has declared a drought emergency and some 650,000 people, a third of the population, do not have enough food. As elsewhere, water is in extremely short supply for both crops and livestock. Also causing concern are Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland.

Read the full article: FAO

Food insecurity caused by El Niño-induced drought

Photo credit: UN News Centre

West Hararghe region, Ethiopia, December 2015. Some 10.2 million people are food insecure amidst one of the worst droughts to hit Ethiopia in decades. Photo: WFP/Stephanie Savariaud

Ethiopia: $50 million needed to tackle food insecurity caused by El Niño-induced drought, says UN

As the worst El Niño-induced drought has sparked a sharp deterioration in food security and massive drop in agricultural and pastoral production in Ethiopia, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today presented a $50 million plan to assist agriculture- and livestock-dependent households and enhance their resilience.

“The outlook for 2016 is very grim,” said Amadou Allahoury, FAO Representative for Ethiopia, adding that “continued drought throughout the beginning of 2016 also means pasture will become even more scarce, which will negatively impact livestock keepers that rely on those grazing lands and water points for their food security.”

The current El Niño pattern, being the strongest ever recorded, has caused severe drought in the Horn of Africa nation, resulting in crop reduction by 50 to 90 per cent; even failure in some regions. Thus, some 10.2 million people are food insecure and farmers have been left vulnerable without valuable seeds for upcoming planting season.

Moreover, livestock will become leaner, sicker and less productive and perish, as worsening access to pasture and water continues, according to FAO’s latest assessments. Meanwhile, malnutrition rates have spiked and the number of severe acute malnutrition admissions for children is now the highest ever reported.

In response, FAO has outlined an emergency roadmap aiming at assisting 1.8 million farmers and livestock keepers, reducing food gaps, and restoring agricultural production and incomes in 2016.

“$50 million is now sought from the international community by FAO to reach and this is an immediate need because we have to be there in the next few weeks for them for the farmers and pastoralists to start agriculture and this is a very urgent need for assistance,” Shukri Ahmed, FAO Senior Economist, appealed in a video interview.

First, FAO plans to assist 131,500 households through agricultural production, especially for the first half of 2016. This includes emergency seed distribution, small-scale irrigation and backyard gardening initiatives, support for seed producers and women’s empowerment.

Next, some 293,000 households will benefit from FAO’s livestock interventions, such as the distribution of emergency animal feed, vaccination drives, restocking of 100,000 goats and sheep to vulnerable households, as well as cash-for-livestock exchange programmes.

Read the full article: UN News Centre

FAO actions aim to minimize impact of El Niño on agriculture

Photo credit: FAO

A farmer takes a break in Swaziland.


El Niño lowers early production outlook in Southern Africa

Crop and livestock production prospects in Southern Africa have been weakened by the El Niño weather phenomenon that has lowered rains and increased temperatures.

A reduced agricultural output would follow on last year’s disappointing season, which has already contributed to higher food prices and “could acutely impact the food security situation in 2016,” according to a special alert released on Tuesday by FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

The season for planting maize in Southern Africa has already experienced delays, while crops sown stand to be negatively affected due to inadequate rains and higher temperatures. “It’s the sixth week of the cropping season now and there’s not enough moisture in the soil,” said Shukri Ahmed, FAO Deputy Strategic Programme Leader – Resilience.

The region’s small-scale farmers are almost entirely dependent on rain, rendering their output highly susceptible to its variations. While El Niño’s impact depends highly on location and season – the impact of El Niño on agricultural production appears more muted in northern areas – past strong episodes have been associated with reduced production in several countries, including South Africa, which is the largest cereal producer in the sub-region and typically exports maize to neighbouring countries.

FAO had already warned in March that the current El Niño would be strong — and it now appears to be the strongest episode in 18 years. It will peak at the start of 2016, before the usual harvest time for farmers in Southern Africa.

“Weather forecasts indicate a higher probability of a continuation of below-normal rains between December and March across most countries,” according to the GIEWS alert.

South Africa has already declared drought status for five provinces, its main cereal producing regions, while Lesotho has issued a drought mitigation plan and Swaziland has implemented water restrictions as reservoir levels have become low.

Increasing prices intensify risks

The likelihood of another poor season is troublesome as it comes on the heels of a poor one that has already depleted inventories, tightened supplies and pushed up local prices. The Subregional maize production fell by 27 percent in 2015, triggering a sharp increase in the number of people already vulnerable to food insecurity in the region.

Read the full article: FAO


El Niño could boost agricultural production in Kenya

Photo credit: SciDevNet

Copyright: Arjan van de Merwe/UNDP

El Niño rains could be double-edged sword for Kenya

Gilbert Nakweya

“If [people in] such areas do serious farming during this season, they will increase the country’s agricultural productivity.” – Samuel Mwangi, Kenya Meteorological Department

Speed read

  • The El Niño-related rainfall is expected to peak this month
  • Experts say it could boost agricultural production and power generation
  • But it could also increase the spread of diseases such as malaria

Kenya should take advantage of the predicted El Niño-related rainfall expected to peak this month and extend to early parts of 2016, according to meteorologists.

Kenyan meteorologists say that although the rains will negatively impact on people and their livelihoods, the country should be prepared to reap the benefits of the rains.

“We have positives that Kenyans, especially those in the agricultural marginalised areas, should take advantage of,” said Samuel Mwangi, a meteorologist from the Kenya Meteorological Department.
Mwangi tells SciDev.Net that farmers in such areas as Mbeere, Makueni and Machakos which usually experience dry seasons, should tap into the rains and plant food crops.

“If [people in] such areas do serious farming during this season, they will increase agricultural productivity on their farms, hence improving the food security situation in the country,” explained Mwangi adding that the national and county governments should help farmers in these areas by providing farm inputs such as seeds.
Read the full article: SciDevNet

The worst El Niño ?

Photo credit: UN News Centre

Starting in 2011, drought-hit northern and eastern Kenya suffered especially from an already poor food security situation, exacerbated by high food and fuel prices. Credit: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN


El Niño on track to be among worst ever, but world better prepared for fallout – UN

The current El Niño, a weather pattern of devastating droughts and catastrophic floods that can affect tens of millions of people around the globe, is expected to strengthen further by year’s end, on track to be one of the three strongest in 65 years, according to the latest update from the United Nations weather agency.

But the world is better prepared than ever to deal with the phenomenon, caused by the cyclical warming of the Equatorial Pacific Ocean, even though global warming has added a wild card to forecasting the severity of its impact, UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud told a news conference in Geneva today.

“It’s not entirely clear how El Niño interacts with the changing climate,” he said, warning that it is playing out in uncharted territory due to global warming. “Even before the onset of El Niño, global average surface temperatures had reached new records. El Niño is turning up the heat even further.”

Based on advice from National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, the worst affected countries are already planning for the impact on agriculture, fisheries, water and health, and implementing disaster management campaigns to save lives and minimize economic damage and disruption, he added.

“Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño, which is the strongest for more than 15 years,” he said, noting that peak three-month average surface water temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean will exceed 2 degrees Celsius above normal.

But, he stressed: “We are better prepared for this event than we have ever been in the past.”

Read the full article: UN News Centre 

Hunger and El Niño


10 Million at Risk of Hunger Due to Climate Change and El Niño, Oxfam Warns

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The 1997–98 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. - en.wikipedia.org - http://cdn.ipsnews.net/Library/2015/10/1997_El_Nino_TOPEX_.jpg
The 1997–98 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. – en.wikipedia.org – http://cdn.ipsnews.net/Library/2015/10/1997_El_Nino_TOPEX_.jpg

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 2015 (IPS) – At least ten million of the poorest people face food insecurity in 2015 and 2016 due to extreme weather conditions and the onset of El Niño, Oxfam has reported.

In Oxfam’s new report called Entering Uncharted Waters, erratic weather patterns were noted including high temperatures and droughts, disrupting farming seasons around the world.

Countries are already facing a “major emergency,” said Oxfam, including Ethiopia where 4.5 million people are in need of food assistance due to a drought this year.

Almost three million face hunger in Malawi as a result of erratic rains followed by drought. These conditions have caused a stifling in food production and a rise in food prices.

Christian Aid reported that the production of maize, Malawi’s staple food, has dropped by 30 percent in 2014, while maize prices have risen between 50 and 100 percent.

Central American farmers have been coping with a drought for almost two years, also disrupting its maize production and decreasing access to sufficient food.

Oxfam warns that conditions will worsen due to the incoming El Niño, which could be the “most powerful” since 1997

El Niño is a weather phenomenon where there is periodic, but prolonged warming of the Pacific Ocean. This can last between 9 months to 2 years, producing below-average rains and high temperatures.

El Niño has already reduced the Asian monsoon over India, potentially triggering a prolonged drought and food insecurity in the Eastern region of the continent.

The warming of the oceans, exacerbated by climate change, may double the frequency of the most powerful El Niños, Oxfam says.

The charity urged for preemptive action, pointing to the consequences of failure of response, such as the death of 260,000 during the food crisis in the Horn of Africa in 2011.

Read the full story: IPS

Low rainfall in Namibia

Photo credit: Google

Tok Tokkie desert in Namibia

Namibia: Below-Average Rainfall Could Hamper Grazing

The low rainfall figures recorded in Namibia this year could lead to reduced grazing in some parts of the country.

The latest Food Security Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) Agromet Update Bulletin – issued and prepared in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) last month – indicated that rainfall was generally low in the north-west and north-central parts of Namibia in November and December.

Heavy rainfall was, however, received in some areas in early December.

“The low rainfall has led to reduced grazing in parts of the country, with satellite images of vegetation also indicating below-average conditions in some of the northern areas.

With the national seasonal forecast predicting normal-to-below normal rainfall for the period January to March 2015 in some of these areas, close monitoring will be required,” it cautioned.

The low rainfall was associated with a delayed and erratic onset of rains. In many of the affected areas, the seasonal onset of rains was delayed by 30 to 40 days, according to the bulletin.

However, it warned that the delayed onset and subsequent late planting could shorten the time available for crops to grow and mature before the end of the season, or before the mid-season dry spells set in.

This will potentially result in reduced crop yields and delayed harvests.

Read the full article: allAfrica

El Niño forecasts: the previously rapid rate of global warming could resume

Photo credit: Pixabay

El Niño Could Grow Into a Monster, New Data Show

By Eric Holthaus

The odds are increasing that an El Niño is in the works for 2014—and recent forecasts show it might be a big one.

As we learned from Chris Farley, El Niños can boost the odds of extreme weather (droughts, typhoons, heat waves) across much of the planet. But the most important thing about El Niño is that it is predictable, sometimes six months to a year in advance.

That’s an incredibly powerful tool, especially if you are one of the billions who live where El Niño tends to hit hardest—Asia and the Americas. If current forecasts stay on track, El Niño might end up being the biggest global weather story of 2014.

The most commonly accepted definition of an El Niño is a persistent warming of the so-called “Niño3.4” region of the tropical Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii, lasting for at least five consecutive three-month “seasons.” A recent reversal in the direction of the Pacific trade winds appears to have kicked off a warming trend during the last month or two. That was enough to prompt U.S. government forecasters to issue an El Niño watch last month.

Forecasters are increasingly confident in a particularly big El Niño this time around because, deep below the Pacific Ocean’s surface, off-the-charts warm water is lurking:

Read the full article: Slate

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