18 March 1998



While the final outcome of 1997/98 cereal crops in southern Africa still depends crucially on El Niño-related weather behaviour in the coming weeks, there is now guarded optimism about the likely outcome of the season. As of mid-March 1998, crop growing conditions have been generally favourable in most parts, with normal to above normal rainfall received since October. However, localized crop damage due to excessive rains or prolonged dry spells is reported from several parts of the sub-region. With crops still at their pollination stage, it is too early to give a definite quantitative estimate of the seasonís outcome. It is possible however, to provide some preliminary indications, based on the planted areas, latest rainfall data and satellite images, crop reports from SADC Regional and National Early Warning Systems and the local mid-season assessments undertaken in countries of the sub-region with participation of FAO, WFP, USAID/FEWS, as well as UNICEF (for Mozambique) and NGOs.

The El Niño which started in March 1997 with a high warming of sea surface temperatures continues to have an impact on the agriculture sector (including forestry and fisheries) in several parts of the world, including Eastern and Southern Africa. In Africa, while El Niño has been associated with exceptionally heavy rains in Eastern Africa, its impact on weather has so far been minor in Southern Africa. Nevertheless, Governments in the sub-region, with coordination by SADC and the assistance of their international partners, initiated contingency planning, including encouraging the planting of drought resistant crops, early plantings, improved water conservation measures and distribution of seed packs and other inputs. FAO intensified its monitoring of the crop situation in the sub-region while WFP prepared a contingency plan in cooperation with SADC.

As the growing season progresses in southern Africa, the threat of an El Niño-induced drought appears to be receding. Following hot and dry weather during the first dekad of February in the southern half of the sub-region extending across Lesotho, southern Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and most of the northern and central portions of South Africa, better rainfall and cooler temperatures during the rest of the month favoured crop development in most areas. However, more rains are needed in these areas in the next few weeks for crops to reach their maturity. As harvest is likely to be delayed following later-than-usual plantings at the beginning of the season, the danger also exists that an early frost in the upcoming winter period could damage part of the crop.


Assuming normal weather conditions prevail for the remainder of the season, the sub-regionís aggregate cereal production is forecast at 19.8 million tonnes. This would represent a drop in output of about 8 percent compared to the relatively good 1997 harvest, largely on account of reduced planting in many countries as a result of the drought warning and irregular rains. A major deterioration of weather conditions in the remaining March/April period could result in a further drop in output, but of a limited magnitude given the current relatively good level of soil moisture in many places and the availability of irrigation water for commercial farms. Based on this production forecast, aggregate cereal import requirements of the sub-region during the

1998/99 marketing year are estimated at about 4.7 million tonnes, some 30 percent above last yearís level. The major impact on food supply in the sub-region would be the substantial reduction of exportable surpluses from South Africa and Zimbabwe to needy countries in the sub-region. Reflecting reduced production and limited commercial import capacity of several countries in the sub-region, food aid requirements in the marketing year 1998/99 could increase. The most affected country would be Lesotho. Madagascar may also have serious locust-induced crop losses. The table below summarizes the supply/demand situation for the sub-region. With nearly two months before crops are harvested, these estimates should be regarded as highly tentative. FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions, in cooperation with SADC, are scheduled to visit the more vulnerable countries in April/May to review the seasonís outcome and to estimate the cereal import requirements, including food aid for 1998/99.

Southern Africa 1998/99 Supply/Demand Situation
SOUTHERN AFRICA  1997/98  1998/99
Domestic Availability  24 228  21 880
Production 1 21 501  19 811
Opening Stock  2 727  2 069
Utilization  27 871  26 604
Food Use  18 039  18 746
Other Uses  5 852  5 852
Exports  1 911  650
Closing stocks  2 069  1 356
Import Requirements  3 643  4 724
Commercial Imports  3 019  3 776
Food aid needs  624  948




Conditions have so far been generally favourable for crops in most parts of the country. Despite a slow start of the season with below normal rains in the southern areas until December, widespread rains in January have significantly improved conditions for crops, particularly in cereal growing areas of the centre and the south. Plantings are estimated to have slightly increased from the 1996/97 levels. However, agricultural activities and the food supply situation continue to be hampered by security constraints in several parts of the country. Early planted crops have reached maturity and prospects are generally good for the main harvest, which should start in the next few weeks. A near normal harvest is expected.

However, domestic production remains well below consumption requirements and the country continues to rely heavily on international assistance to meet its food needs. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission is scheduled to visit the country in April/May.


Following generally sparse and below normal rainfall in most parts of the country between October and December, abundant and widespread rains fell across the country in January 1998, becoming heavy in the north and lighter in the south. Despite an adequate supply of seeds and other agricultural inputs, the planted area was constrained by the late start of rains and is forecast to be much below the 1996/97 level. As a result, timely and well distributed rains in March and April will be critical for crops. If, on the other hand, the next few weeks see dry weather then yields could be seriously affected leading to a major crop loss compared to the 1997 below average cereal production. Given the possibility that many farmers were induced by high prices during the current 1997/98 marketing year to sell most of their grains to milling companies, farm level stocks are likely to be low. Nevertheless, available grain stocks and planned imports by major commercial millers during the 1998/99 marketing year are expected to meet national requirements.


The cropping season has been marked by generally erratic and below normal rainfall between September and December, with high temperatures in many areas which further reduced the level of soil moisture. As a result, early planted crops suffered serious water stress and planting was delayed in many areas. Widespread rains in January significantly improved conditions for crops and encouraged some farmers to plant more land. This will increase the size of the area planted, which was forecast in early January at only a third of the 1996/97 level. Seed and fertilizer supply are considered adequate. Following light and localized showers during the first dekad of February, better rains during the last two dekads of February improved crop conditions. However, more timely and well distributed rains are needed in March and April for crops to complete their growth cycle

Based on the above, prospects remain poor for the 1998 cereal harvest. Output is forecast to be some 25 to 30 percent below the 1997 reduced crop. As a result, the food supply situation in the country could worsen during the upcoming marketing year unless arrangements for large imports are made.


Despite a late start of rains, which delayed the transplanting of rice in some areas, favourable rains were received in most areas in December and January. The area planted to rice and other cereals is reported to be normal but may be somewhat reduced as a result of the delayed start of the season. While recent precipitation received in February will be beneficial to crops, the major threat to the 1998 crops to be harvested in March/April is the persistence of swarms of African Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria capito) in several regions of the country. Locust movements are currently reported in the southern and south-western parts of the country but also in western and central major rice growing areas. Aerial and ground control operations are in progress.

However, given the potential impact of locusts on crops, harvest prospects are uncertain and crop losses could range from 10 to 30 percent of the 1997 harvest. This would lead to a sharp increase in cereal import requirements for which emergency food assistance would be required, particularly in drought-prone southern areas where the situation of vulnerable groups tends to be exacerbated by transport difficulties and low purchasing power of the population. Emergency food aid requirements are expected to be channelled through food-for-work and vulnerable group feeding activities.


The outlook for the 1997/98 cereal crop is generally good. Despite a late start of the season, rainfall in most parts of the country has so far been very favourable. The rains have been generally light in the south but moderate to heavy in the north, resulting in flooding in some areas with loss of property and lives. Total area planted is expected to be comparable to the 1996/97 level but may be somewhat reduced as a result of the late start of rains. The supply of major agricultural inputs is considered adequate. Harvest prospects are therefore generally favourable. Overall, the 1998 crop is anticipated to be comparable to last yearís average level but could be higher if conditions continue to be favourable in southern areas. An improvement in harvest outcome will help reduce the countryís need to import cereals to meet its requirements. WFP plans to support a four month safety net programme through food-for-work and vulnerable group feeding activities.


Crops continue to benefit from favourable conditions in most parts of the country. Despite initial concerns over a possible El Niño-induced drought, rains started early in September in the southern areas, gradually reaching the central and northern major agricultural provinces. Rainfall from December to February was normal and crops are reported to be in good vegetative condition. Seed and fertilizer supplies are reported to be adequate. A few areas of concern include the western provinces of Tete and Manica, where dry spells in November and December and floods in January have affected crops in some districts. Heavy rains, which continued through February, could reduce yields in some northern and central areas, due to water-logging of crops and loss of soil nutrients. Initial indications are that area planted this year could be at least similar to the 1996/97 level. Prospects are generally favourable for a near normal harvest of cereal and other crops, provided good weather conditions prevail in the remainder of the season.

Following a good 1997 cereal harvest with large carryover stocks anticipated, the overall food supply situation is expected to continue to improve. However, food assistance will continue to be required in localized dry areas of the south and areas where farmers may lose their crop as a result of current floods. Therefore, international assistance may be needed for local purchases and transport to remote areas. Additional food assistance through the ongoing emergency will be required for people affected by floods (Sofala and Tete provinces) and crop loss in isolated dry areas in traditionally food insecure areas of Gaza and Inhamane Province. A new Emergency Operation of 8 000 to 10 000 tonnes for one year will probably be prepared in June by WFP, to start in October 1998.


Weather conditions have so far been favourable in most crop growing areas of the country. Rainfall in January has been widespread and heavy in some areas, substantially improving crop growing conditions, particularly in the north-east and Caprivi regions. Pastures have also benefited from these favourable conditions. Despite a dry spell in early February, the rainfall situation continues to be better than anticipated at the beginning of the season. However, more timely and well distributed rains are needed in March and April to bring to maturity crops mostly planted in late December and January.

Prospects for cereal harvests are generally favourable. Assuming no major deterioration of weather conditions in the coming few weeks, output is expected to be close to or above average. Following last yearís bumper harvest, a large carryover stock is anticipated at the end of the current marketing year. Consequently, available supply and planned commercial imports should cover consumption requirements during the 1998/99 marketing year.

South Africa

Rainfall in late December and in January was abundant, covering most of the country. This provided much needed relief for crops, particularly in the northern and central parts of the country which received little rain in December and crop were severely stressed. Although the first dekad of February was marked by above average temperatures and below average rainfall at a time when about a third of the maize was coming into the critical pollination stage, better rains during the rest of the month and in early March have reduced concerns for the start of the much anticipated El Niño-induced dry period in this part of the sub-region. It is expected that the current high soil moisture reserves and the availability of irrigation water in commercial farming areas will help cushion the impact of a prolonged dry spell on crops in the next few weeks. Nonetheless, an extended drought and/or an early frost in the upcoming winter period could lead to a crop loss of some 10 to 20 percent compared to last year. The major impact would to seriously affect the countryís ability to export maize, particularly to countries in the sub-region.

Maize planting is officially estimated to be reduced by about 12 per cent, compared to last year, largely on account of reduced planting in several areas as a result of the drought warning and irregular rains, particularly in December. The subsequent first production estimate indicates a maize crop of 6.9 million tonnes, including 2.8 million tonnes of yellow maize for animal feed and 4.1 million tonnes of white maize, slightly above domestic consumption needs.


Weather conditions have been generally favourable since October with normal to above normal rains over most growing areas. In keeping with contingency measures suggested by the government, farmers started to plant early, especially in the Low Veld. Fast maturing and drought tolerant maize varieties were used in drought prone areas. The area planted to maize is expected to be slightly lower than last yearís level, largely resulting from crop diversification by some farmers. The early planted crop is now reported at the tasselling to grain-filling stages, while the late planted crop is at the late vegetative stage and in good condition.

Harvest prospects are generally good but yields may be affected by heavy rains in several areas, which may cause the leaching of nutrients. The current food supply situation is satisfactory overall and most of imports are expected to be met through commercial channels.


Widespread and abundant rains received in most parts of the country in January and early February were beneficial to crops, particularly in Southern and Western Provinces. Current wet conditions may also negatively affect yields due to water-logging and loss of soil nutrients. Initial indications are that area planted to cereals may be nearing the 1997 level in northern areas and slightly lower elsewhere, with more diversification from maize to millet/sorghum and other crops in Southern and Western Provinces, which are generally vulnerable to drought. Seed and fertilizer supplies are reported to be normal but the area planted by small scale farmers may have also been limited in some areas due to a lack of credit and inadequate input distribution. The effective demand for fertilizers is reported to be low as prices appear to be out of reach of small farmers.

Early prospects for the 1998 cereal harvest are generally favourable in the major growing areas. Provided conditions do not deteriorate during the next few weeks, production could be close to the 1997 level. The present food supply situation is generally satisfactory as a result of recent imports of maize, especially from South Africa and available cereal supply should cover needs until the arrival of the new crop. However, further imports may be required during the 1998/99 marketing year to cover the countryís cereal needs.


Rains until early January were late and generally erratic in the southern part of the country. Crop conditions improved significantly in January following widespread rains in most areas of the country. In general, the late arrival of rains coupled with repeated drought early warnings resulted in a reduction of planting by an estimated 25 to 30 percent compared to 1997. The early planted crop is at the grain-filling stages and is reported in good condition. The rest of the crop is generally at the vegetative stage, and in relatively good condition. Crop in some southern areas suffered from a dry spell in early February. In general, more rains are needed in March and part of April for crops to reach their maturity.

The current overall food supply situation is relatively tight. Following a drop of almost 70 percent in the value of the local currency against the US dollar in late 1997 and reports of government plans to distribute land as part of a peasant resettlement scheme, the price of maize meal and other consumer goods rose steeply by up to 40 percent in January 1998, triggering food riots in the capital. In order to stabilize consumer prices, part of the maize Strategic Grain Reserve has been released onto the market. Further measures are expected since the Government has now appointed a 30-member economic advisory committee including leaders of the main private sector organizations. For the upcoming 1998/99 marketing year, there may be a smaller carryover stock available to help cushion the impact of the drop in output and the country may become a net importer of cereals. Targeted assistance may also be required to vulnerable groups in southern traditionally dry areas, which are likely to have poor harvest. This assistance is a continuing programme which the Government may need to increase or refocus depending on the situation.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required. 
Abdur Rashid 
Mohamed Zejjari
Director, OSA, WFP
Telex 610181 FAO I 
Telex: 626675 WFP 1
Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495 
Fax: 0039-6-6513-2201
E-mail:[email protected] 
E-Mail: [email protected]

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