Southern Africa faces El Nino drought
Southern Africa is bracing for another season of normal to below-normal rainfall, amid indications that the region will again be affected by the El Niño weather pattern.
Head of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Directorate at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat, Domingos Gove, said the forecast is that the 2018-19 rainfall season could be affected by the El Niño phenomenon, which is usually associated with droughts in the region.
“The coming season may be heavily impacted by the El Nino weather phenomenon. This will have an impact on outcome of the next agricultural season,” Gove said while briefing journalists ahead of the 38th Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government taking place in Namibian capital, Windhoek.
Every year, the October to April rainfall season largely determines the main summer harvest for the region as crop agriculture is mainly rainfall dependent and irrigation is minimal.
The forecast of another possible dry season comes as the food security situation in Southern Africa has been subdued this year due to a low harvest during the 2017-18 agricultural season.
According to a report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa published by SADC in July, available data indicates that the dry spells that characterised the 2017-18 rainfall season have resulted in reduced cereal harvests compared to the 2017 bumper crop.
Based on the 10 SADC member states that provided cereal balance sheets for the 2018-19 marketing year, the region is estimated to have a cereal surplus of 6,3 million metric tonnes compared to 7,5 million tonnes for the same countries in the previous marketing year.
The countries that submitted their national vulnerability assessment reports are Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The report revealed that only Mozambique and Tanzania experienced increases in cereal production during the 2017-18 farming season.
Production of maize and other cereals in Mozambique is estimated to have increased by 15 percent to 3,2 million tonnes in the 2017-18 agricultural season from 2,8 the previous season, while preliminary estimates for Tanzania put the output at 9,5 million tonnes for 2017-18 cropping season, up from 9,4 million tonnes previously.
Cereal production in South Africa, which usually accounts for the largest proportion of regional output, is estimated to have decreased by 19 percent during the 2017-18 season compared to the previous period, according to the report.
The largest drop in output was in Zambia where cereal production is estimated to have declined by 33 percent during the last agricultural season compared to 2016-17, while Zimbabwe experienced an 18 percent drop.
The impact of the lower than expected harvest in the region is, however, expected to be offset by significant carry-over stocks in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
South Africa is forecast to have opening maize stocks of over four million metric tonnes, while Zambia and Zimbabwe are expected to have opening maize stocks of 900 000 tonnes each.
This means carry-over stocks in these countries and the expected surpluses in Mozambique and Tanzania will be enough to offset the deficits in Botswana, Eswatini Lesotho and Namibia.
This will require SADC member states to take appropriate measures to promote trading of maize and avoid taking ad-hoc actions that would restrict imports or exports of grains within the region.
The region has in the past adopted measures to mitigate the impacts of poor harvests on food security.
Faced with an El Niño-induced drought during the 2015-16 season, which was described as the worst in 35 years, SADC established an El Niño response team to coordinate the regional response to the impacts of the poor harvest.
The SADC El Niño Response Team was set up in May 2016 in response to a directive issued by the SADC Council of Ministers that met in March of the same year.
The team prepared a regional drought appeal for assistance with the aim of mobilizing resources to meet the needs of people requiring humanitarian support in the region.
In addition to this, SADC has adopted a number of others measures to revolutionize the agricultural sector, which contributes between four and 27 percent of the regional gross domestic product, and about 13 percent of the total export earnings.
The measures include promotion of investment in research and improved access to financial resources for smallholder farmers.
Other strategies are measures to strengthen the capacity for the dissemination of research technologies to farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of farmers in the region.
Access to such information is critical for planning purposes, especially when farmers want to diversify into new crops or livestock.
With regard to water infrastructure development, SADC is investing in irrigation to enable farmers to grow crops all year around and not only depend on climatic conditions.
There is vast potential for irrigation in SADC as the region is endowed with large watercourses such as the Congo, Limpopo, and Zambezi rivers.
The Water Sector Plan of the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan contains a total of 34 infrastructure projects aimed at improving access to water in the region.
At the national level, various SADC member states are capacitating their farmers to embrace new technologies and ensure that they get increased productivity per unit area of land, rather than by increasing the area of cultivated land.
Individual countries are also improving their storage facilities to allow farmers to store their harvest for use in poor seasons.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, post-harvest crop losses are estimated to be as high as 40 percent in southern Africa.
SADC has also finalized the Regional Agricultural Policy (PAP) that was adopted in 2014. The plan seeks to ensure long-term food security and the reduction of social and economic vulnerability of the region’s population by enhancing sustainable agricultural production in the changing socio-economic and climatic conditions.
The region is implementing the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which aims to boost food production in the continent.
Adopted by the African Union in 2003, the CAADP encourages countries to reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development by allocating at least 10 percent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector each year.
Ultimately, this ambitious and broad vision for agricultural reform in Africa aspires for an average annual growth rate of six percent in agriculture.
It should also be noted that the budgetary target does not only focus on the agricultural sector per se but also seeks to address inter-linkages between agriculture and other sectors.
For example, investment in infrastructure development such as road and rail in critical to promoting the smooth movement of agricultural produce from one place to another.
In the same light, improvements in science and technology promotes development of appropriate innovations including fertilizers and other farming inputs such as seeds.
The 38th SADC Summit set for 17-18 August is expected to come up with more measures to consolidate the drive towards food security.
The theme for the summit is “Promoting Infrastructure Development and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development.”
At the summit, Namibian President Hage Geingob will assume the rotating SADC chair from President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.