The wrath of El Niño grips Africa

Poor rains as a result of the continued wrath of El Niño weather pattern have put much strain on the SADC region farming sector. Drought cut the staple maize crop in South Africa, Africa’s biggest producer, by about a third of the 2015/2016 season and is likely to continue into the southern hemisphere summer as El Niño strengthens According to a statement from the Crop Estimates Committee,
farmers in South Africa will reduce 2016 season plantings of the grain to the smallest since 2011 because of poor rains in the main growing regions. The El Niño effect is a known phenomenon which causes the sea temperature to rise significantly in the Pacific Ocean off South America, and the air becomes dry, affecting the rain-formation process.
United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) has indicated that a combination of failed harvests in a number of SADC countries during the 2014/2015 summer together with the effects of ongoing drought conditions in the region would create an estimated 27,4 million food-insecure people over the next six months.
Said the statement: “Most at threat from immediate food insecurity are Malawi, Zimbabwe and Madagascar which all suffered severe crop failure due to extended dry spells. There are also concerns about growing food insecurity in Lesotho and the southern parts of Angola and Mozambique. While Botswana and Namibia also suffered from extensive drought earlier this year, people in these countries are not considered as much at risk.”
Furthermore the statement added that Malawi was struggling with its worst food insecurity in a decade as a result of damage-causing floods that had then been followed by the current drought conditions. Zimbabwe’s harvest from its 2014/2015 summer crops was reported to be 50% down from the 2013/14 summer production season.
For the South Africa’s maize belt the weather patterns has brought more drought to already-parched regions.
In West Africa, a lack of rainfall across Ghana’s cocoa belt has raised fears that the world’s No. 2 grower could be facing another poor crop. In Ethiopia, 4.5 million people need food aid because of El Nino and long-term climate change.
SADC Climate Service Centre Regional Coordinator Bradwell Garanganga said much of SADC is likely to receive normal to below-normal rainfall for the periods October to December 2015 as well as January to March 2016, adding that “a persistent strong El Niño is also favoured during the bulk of the rainfall season.”
Garanganga furthermore said that the SADC region should be prepared for such natural phenomena. “For example, farmers could plant crops that do not take long to mature, and the region should invest more infrastructure development including roads, irrigation and silos.”
In South Africa, the provincial agricultural departments of Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
and KwaZulu-Natal have provided R14,7 million in drought relief assistance to small-scale and subsistence farmers in the provinces. The five provinces are reported to currently be the worst affected by the drought. The funds will be used for animal feed and water and for intensifying awareness campaigns.
The provincial agricultural departments submitted their declaration requests to the Provincial Disaster Management Centers in accordance with the Disaster Management Act, 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002).
The drought disaster stricken provinces will submit their disaster funding requests to the South African
National Treasury through the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC).
In the meantime, the department said that it has approached the Industrial Development Corporation and the Land Bank for possible assistance. Both indicated that they have plans to assist affected farmers. The plans include providing soft loans.
The Zimbabwean government has, as a result of the ongoing drought, slashed the 2015 growth forecast to 1.5% from 3.2%. Aid agencies say 1.5 million Zimbabweans, or 16% of the population, would need food aid by next March.
Meanwhile in Uganda, there is an increased disaster management focus around the country as it expects heavy rainfall during the months of January and February 2016. Heavy rains have already led to a rise in cholera cases. The disease has killed at least six people in western Uganda.
Additional reporting from: Reuters, Farmers weekly, News24