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El Niño lowers agricultural production outlook in Southern Africa

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Staff writer ▼ | December 23, 2015
El Niño Africa
FAO   Global Information and Early Warning System

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 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.


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