GIEWS > Data & Tools > Earth Observation
GIEWS - Global Information and Early Warning System

Country Briefs


Reference Date: 15-November-2016


  1. Forecasts point to higher likelihood of normal to above-average rainfall conditions for 2016/17 cropping season, with cereal and groundnuts crops currently being planted

  2. El Niño‑related drought resulted in sharply lower cereal production in 2016

  3. Prices of maize meal remained stable but at high levels

  4. Food security conditions stressed due to impact of drought on agricultural production, further exacerbated by higher maize prices

Forecasts point to enhanced chance of above-average rainfall conditions for 2017 crops

Sowing of the 2017 cereal crops is underway and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Rainfall forecasts for the 2016/17 main summer cropping season (October-June) indicate an enhanced chance for normal to above-average rainfall conditions; this follows a season that was largely characterized by severe dryness. Based on the current weather outlook, early production prospects for the 2017 crop are generally favourable, however, the agricultural productive capacity of farming households is expected to be lower than normal, particularly in regard to seed supplies as a result of the reduced 2016 crop. In response, FAO is supporting 12 500 households with agricultural inputs and an additional 7 500 households with supplementary water supply and livestock feed.

Dry conditions cause sharp reduction in 2016 agricultural output

Cereal production in 2016, which is almost entirely comprised of maize, is estimated to be at a well below-average level of 33 000 tonnes, 60 percent down from the previous year’s output. The sharply lower production is on account of the El Niño‑related drought that caused a contraction in the area planted and lower yields. The low cereal‑producing regions of Shiswelweni (south) and Lubombo (east), which also experienced a poor agricultural campaign in 2015, were most affected by the prolonged dryness.

Pastures and water resources for animals were also adversely affected by the dry conditions; more than 80 000 cattle were lost.

Sugarcane production is also forecast to have decreased by about 30 percent, mainly resting on a reduction in yields that offset a year-on-year increase in the area planted.

Maize prices remained at high levels

Following a sharp increase earlier in the year on account of the impact of the drought on regional export prices, maize meal prices have remained stable and fallen moderately since April. This reflects the declining prices in South Africa (the country’s main source of imported grain) that have helped to reduce imported inflation. However, as of September prices of maize meal were still 50 percent up on their year earlier levels, while wheat prices were only 3 percent higher over the same period.

Food security worsens due to impact of El Niño-associated drought conditions

With a high dependence on rainfed maize production, especially in marginal producing areas, suppressed seasonal rainfall tends to translate into large negative production shocks, while the very low income levels of rural smallholders limit their capacity to respond effectively to these shocks. With the country experiencing a second consecutive poor agricultural output in 2016, food security conditions and vulnerabilities have been severely stressed. According to the national Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s (VAC) 2016 evaluation, the number of food insecure is estimated at 638 000 people in 2016/17, nearly double the level compared to the previous year. The regions with the highest prevalence of food insecurity are Lubombo and Shiswelweni, reflecting the areas that were most affected by the drought.