Southern Africa plans ahead for drought as report warns of possible El Niño effect
Countries in southern Africa are urging farmers to plant early and prepare for drought conditions that many experts are predicting the subregion may suffer as a result of El Niño. "The worst effects of this year's El Niño are expected to be felt over the next few months", according to a Special Report on the event's impact on crop production in the subregion released by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) in late November.
Drought conditions are forecast for most southern African countries, including Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. To reduce possible adverse effects, governments in the subregion are encouraging farmers to plant drought-resistant crops as early as possible and to adopt better water conservation methods. Other contingency plans include the distribution of seed packs and inputs and conservation of food stocks. The most recent GIEWS report on the Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in sub-Saharan Africa warns that reports of impending drought might prompt some farmers to keep more grain for family consumption forcing countries to import more cereals from outside.
Many in southern Africa remember the effects of the 1991/92 El Niño, which resulted in a devastating drought that threatened some 18 million people with famine. However, credible early warning, on-the-spot assessments, rapid regional response and large-scale international assistance were credited with saving many lives.
FAO/GIEWS has been closely monitoring weather and crop events in southern Africa using satellite imagery, together with country-level field observations, in order to head off any possible El Niño-induced catastrophe in a region that has already suffered from adverse weather in recent months. Malawi has been hit by both drought and flood, and hundreds of thousands of people in southern parts of Madagascar are now receiving food assistance after a devastating combination of locust plagues and poor rainfall sharply reduced crops this year.
The critical period for possible impact of El Niño on the next crop season will start in January 1998, at the onset of pollination, according to the report, which follows two earlier reports on the effects of El Niño and other weather anomalies in Latin America and Asia. FAO/GIEWS will continue to monitor events closely and issue reports, as appropriate, updating information on the situation.
28 November 1997