INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
THE IMPACT OF EL NIÑO AND OTHER
WEATHER ANOMALIES ON CROP PRODUCTION IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
21 November 1997
An El Niño phenomenon has been developing since March 1997 resulting
in significant warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.
The phenomenon is often associated with serious weather anomalies and changes
in temperatures and precipitation, which can affect agriculture and water
resources. The El Niño this year is being predicted by experts as
one of the most severe this century as a result of extreme surface sea
temperatures in the Pacific. Expert opinion also suggests that the phenomenon
will continue throughout 1997 and possibly extend into 1998. The worst
affects of El Niño are expected to be felt over the next few months.
To enable some necessary steps to be taken to reduce possible adverse
effects, FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS)
has been closely monitoring weather anomalies in recent months to assess
possible effects these may have on crop production and the food supply
situation in various countries.
This report, which follows two earlier reports on El Niño and weather
anomalies in Latin America and Asia,
focuses on Southern Africa. The 1991/92 El Niño resulted in a devastating
drought in the sub-region, virtually halving cereal production, more than
doubling cereal import requirements and raising food aid import requirements
to an unprecedented 4 million tons. In the aftermath of the drought, some
18 million people were estimated to be facing famine. Fortunately, at that
time, credible early warning, on-the-spot assessments, rapid regional response
and large scale international assistance resulted in ensuring successful relief
efforts, which undoubtedly saved many lives. This year, FAO/GIEWS has been
closely monitoring weather and crop events in southern Africa through satellite
imagery (NDVI and CCD), supported by field observations in individual countries.
In view of the potential threat posed by El Niño, Governments
in the sub-region have instigated various contingency plans, inter alia
encouraging the planting of drought resistant crops, distribution of
seed packs and inputs and adoption of improved water conservation measures.
Other measures and plans being considered include conservation of food
stocks and changes in the targeted volume of imports and exports. FAO has
been actively involved in the sub-regional contingency planning activities
through its sub-regional office, country offices as well as the SADC
Regional Remote Sensing Project.
In monitoring the progression of this year’s El Niño in southern
Africa, it is prudent to have an overview of events during the 1991/92
occurrence to assess any similarities. During that season, in the early
part, favourable rains were received until early January. Subsequently,
however, hot and dry conditions during the critical pollination stage in
the remainder of January and February, severely affected crop growth in
most countries except Angola. This resulted in widespread crop failure,
seriously reducing production. Rains in March came too late to be of use.
Although this season conditions have been normal, the critical period will
be from January 1998 at the onset of pollination. FAO/GIEWS will continue
to closely monitor events and issue reports, as appropriate, giving the
latest situation. This report summarises the weather and crop situation
as of mid-November.
SITUATION BY COUNTRY
Land preparation and early planting have started in northern parts
of the country for the 1997/98 season crops. As the country is located
north of the area presumed to be affected by the El Niño phenomenon,
the impact on crops should normally be minor. Angola was the only country
which was not affected by the 1991/92 El Niño related drought, which
devastated the crops in the rest of the sub-region. As in the past few
years, NGO, donors and UN agency interventions will be highly needed for
the supply of required agricultural inputs (seeds, tools and fertilizers)
to internally displaced persons and returnees, and to farmers in the main
The national food supply situation continues to be tight. Due to the
tense security situation of the past few months, access to some 20 to 40
percent of the country is limited and food difficulties are reported in
some areas, notably Cuanza Sul and Namibe.
Localized rains were received in southern parts of the country in October,
which improved conditions for land preparation for the 1998 cereal crops
to be planted in the next few months. In anticipation of a possible El
Niño related drought later in the season, the national authorities
are advising farmers to take advantage of early rains to plant fast maturing
crops such as millet or short season sorghum.
The food supply situation for the 1997/98 marketing year is expected
to be satisfactory and cereal import requirements are likely to be met
Following abnormally dry conditions in September and October, light
rains in late October improved conditions for land preparation and planting
of the 1997/98 cereal crops. Some delays in planting summer wheat and maize
are reported in mountain areas while in lowland areas, land preparation
and early planting of fast maturing varieties is underway. Harvest expectations
for the winter wheat now at maturing stage have been revised downward as
a result of the lack of rainfall in September. The Government has warned
farmers about the likelihood of poor rainfall this crop season as a result
of the El Niño phenomenon. Farmers are encouraged to plant various
drought resistant crops and use hybrid seeds.
Following a below average cereal harvest in 1997, the national food
supply situation for the current marketing year remains tight.
Rainfall in October and early November were favourable for the transplanting
of the main season rice crop during the coming weeks. However, swarms
of African migratory locust have been reported to be moving out of their
traditional outbreak areas in the south-west to major agricultural areas of
the north-west, increasing the threat to the cereal crops to be harvested later
in the season. A recent FAO/WFP Mission found that
the southern coastal zone was the area most affected by the combined effect
of locusts and poor rainfall, leading to the loss of most of the maize crop
and a sharp reduction in the output of other crops such as cassava and sweet
potatoes. However, the production shortfall in the southern part of the country
has been offset by good harvests in other parts where over 90 percent of national
cereal output is produced. Nationally, the Mission estimated the 1997 total
cereal harvest at 2.7 million tons, about the same as in 1996. Combined cassava
and sweet potato production was estimated at some 2.83 million tons, down 1.3
percent. The Mission considered the food supply situation as very precarious
in the southern coastal areas and recommended urgent food assistance in the
form of food-for-work to an estimated 472 000 people for an initial period of
Little rain has been received over the country so far. Given concerns
about a possible El Niño-induced drought in the upcoming crop season,
the government has initiated contingency plans and is encouraging the planting
of drought-resistant crops (such as cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, and
sorghum) and the practice of water conservation.
Revised official estimates of the 1997 maize harvest indicate an output
of 1.5 million tons, down from an initial forecast of about 2 million tons.
As a result, the food supply situation during the 1997/98 marketing year
is expected to be tighter than anticipated.
Preparation for the 1997/98 crop season has started against a background
of serious concerns over a possible El Niño-related drought. The
government has initiated an information campaign to raise the population’s
awareness, particularly of the need to prepare contingency plans. Following
the good cereal harvest in 1997, the overall food supply situation has
substantially improved. However, transportation difficulties restrict the
movement of food from surplus areas in the north to deficit areas in the
In view of the possible threat of El Niño related drought this
season, the Government has decided to establish an inter-ministerial committee
with the task of assessing all aspects of a possible emergency and its
effects on agriculture, livestock, water supplies, the environment, the
budget and the national economy.
The 1997 cereal production is now estimated at a record 171 300 tons,
almost double last year’s output. The food supply situation is expected
to remain satisfactory during the marketing year 1997/98.
Following dry weather in September, rainfall has been abundant and
widespread since mid-October, providing conditions for farmers to prepare
land and start planting in some areas. Producers of maize, the country's
most important crop, have started preparing for a possible El Niño
related drought, and farmers have been advised to plant only on their most
Total cereal output in 1997 is estimated at 12.2 million tons, some
10 percent below the 1996 harvest, but above the average of the previous
five years. As a result of the good 1997 harvest, the country may have
over 1 million tons of maize to export, with private traders allowed to
export any amount of maize for the first time in decades following full
deregulation this year. The wheat industry was also deregulated in November
following the official shutting down at the end of October of the state-owned
Wheat Board, set up in the 1930s. Although a large part of the available
maize and wheat may be exported to countries in the sub-region that had
reduced harvest this year, some farmers may choose to store more of their
grain given concerns over a possible drought later in the year, particularly
since South Africa’s maize triangle is among the areas most likely to experience
below-normal rainfall as a result of El Niño.
Widespread unseasonable rains fell over most parts of the country in
September and October, providing sufficient moisture for land preparation
and early planting of the 1997/98 maize crop. However, the country could
be affected by the impact of El Niño; farmers have been encouraged
to take steps to reduce the production risks during the season.
The overall food supply situation for the 1997/98 marketing year is
expected to remain satisfactory due to a good maize harvest in 1997, as
well as the availability of large carryover stocks from the maize harvest
Localized rains fell over northern and far north-western Zambia in
late October and land preparation is underway for planting of the 1997/98
cereal crops to be harvested from April. As much of the country could possibly
experience below-normal rainfall during the upcoming season as a result
of the current El Niño phenomenon, drought warnings have been issued
by the Government. Farmers have been advised to plant at different dates
using several varieties of short-season maize.
Reflecting a reduced cereal harvest in 1997, the national food supply
situation for the 1997/98 marketing year is expected to be tighter than
in the previous year.
Relatively good early rains were received in September but widespread
rains started only in mid-November which should prompt many farmers to
start planting coarse grain crops to be harvested from April. As the country
is considered to be one of those at risk of below-normal rainfall this
season as a result of the El Niño phenomenon, farmers have been
advised to plant early and use drought-resistant seeds.
Following an average cereal harvest in 1997, the national food supply
situation is expected to remain satisfactory during the 1997/98 marketing
|This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO
Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since
conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief,
ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET):
GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information
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