Climate outlook ‘particularly concerning’ in southern Africa due to El Niño - UN agency

A maize farmer and her child in Lesotho. Photo: FAO/Gianluigi Guercia

10 February 2016 – El Niño conditions have caused the lowest recorded rainfall between October and December across many regions of Southern Africa in at least 35 years, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has reported in its latest report.

The agency found that short-term forecasts from January to March indicate the high probability of continuing below-normal rainfall in the south, signaling that this could become one of the worst droughts on record.

“The current growing season, which spans from October 2015 to April 2016, is developing under the peak of the El Niño, with the first phase of the growing season characterized by severe and widespread rainfall deficits,” the situation report highlights.

“El Niño’s impact on rain-fed agriculture is severe. Poor rainfall, combined with excessive temperatures, create conditions not conducive for crop growth,” it adds.

Although El Niño’s impact on people’s livelihood reportedly varies according to preparedness and response capacities, rain-dependent small holder farmers—comprising at least 50 per cent of the population in Southern Africa—are the hardest hit.

In Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, WFP is highlighting that delayed planting of up to two months or more, severely impacts maize yields. “As the window for planting closes, even good rainfall offers limited scope for recovery,” it warned.

In conclusion, the UN food agency underscored that the climate outlook is particularly concerning as it is coming on top of a poor harvest in 2014 and 2015.

“Poor regional cereal harvests from the 2014-2015 season have tightened cereal supplies. On average, harvests were 21 per cent lower than the 2013-2014 season and 3 per cent lower than the five-year average. In total, the cereal deficit for the region is 7.9 million tonnes for the 2015/2016 marketing year,” WFP noted.


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