Southern Africa Food Security Alert: January 5, 2015

Report
from Famine Early Warning System Network
Published on 05 Jan 2015 View Original

Erratic start of season and increased likelihood of below-average January to March rainfall could affect crop performance

Rainfall performance has been poor across much of the region for the first half of the 2014/15 agriculture season, particularly in some highly productive cropping areas. Delayed and erratic onset of the rains resulted in moisture deficits in some central and eastern parts of the region. Moderate to heavy rainfall in the past three weeks has brought immediate relief to some parts of Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa but deficits remain in eastern Zambia, northern Malawi, northern Mozambique, and southwestern Madagascar. Several long-term rainfall forecasts for the January to March period suggest continued average to below-average rainfall in some of the affected areas. The poor start to the season, combined with forecasts for reduced rains could adversely impact the main agricultural season in several countries. Close monitoring of the situation is required as the season progresses.

The performance of October to December rainfall has been mixed across the region, with several countries experiencing a 30-40 day delay in the onset of rains. Since early November, infrequent and below-average rainfall in parts of the region has resulted in abnormal dryness. Rainfall in late December helped alleviate dryness in some areas but moisture deficits remain in eastern Zambia, northern Malawi, northern Mozambique, and southwestern Madagascar (Figure 1).

While a similar poor start to the season occurred last year, average to above-average January-March rainfall offset the deficits and allowed for generally average crop production. This year, however, several national level forecasts indicate an increased likelihood of average to below-average rainfall in southern Zambia, southern Malawi, northern Mozambique, southern Zimbabwe, and northern and central South Africa between January and March. These forecasts are consistent with several international forecasts and with the expected effects of both El Niño and a negative subtropical Indian Ocean Dipole in the region. The latest El Niño forecasts show at least a 65 percent chance of an El Niño event occurring during the 2014/15 rainfall season. More information on these impacts can be found here.

Areas that experienced delays in the start of the season and erratic rains since the onset could have a shorter window of time for crops to grow and mature before mid-season dry spells set in or the season ends. If rainfall improves during the second half of the season and replanting (if necessary) takes place, the cropping season will likely progress as normal and the impact on food security outcomes will be minimal. However, poor rainfall during the January-March period could have an adverse impact on household food security because green harvests could be delayed in some areas, the current lean season could be prolonged, and household food security during the 2015/15 consumption could be affected.

FEWS NET will continue to monitor available forecasts and seasonal progress and will provide an updated forecast analysis in February/March.