Rains improved in many areas that were affected by severe drought last season
Poor rains have been received in Tanzania and parts of Madagascar, with likely impacts on crop production in affected areas
An armyworm outbreak has affected the region, with reports of outbreaks in Zambia,
Zimbabwe and Malawi. The outbreak in Zambia is particularly severe
Between October and December 2016, good rains have been received in many of the areas in the region that were affected by the severe El Niño induced drought in the last 1 to 2 seasons (Figure 1, blue oval #1). These areas include much of Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, Swaziland and the northern half of South Africa, where normal to above-normal rains were received. Further north-west, in much of Angola, Zambia, and southern DRC, rains were generally normal to slightly below normal (Figure 1, red oval #2). Although the total rains received in many areas were slightly below normal, they were likely generally sufficient to allow crop development, as suggested by crop models, particularly given the current early stage of the crop. The northeastern parts of the region, in particular, most of Tanzania, and parts of northern Mozambique, have received well below average rainfall so far this season, with negative impacts (Figure 1, red oval #3). The severity of the rainfall deficit is such that in many areas the planting rains have been delayed by 40 days or more (dark grey colours, Figure 2), especially in much of central-southern Tanzania. Madagascar has also experienced poor seasonal performance to date, particularly in north-eastern and south-western parts of the country (Figure 1, red ovals #4). In addition, the south-western parts of the region (Figure 1, area 5) have also received well below average rainfall. These include parts of south-western South Africa, western Namibia and south-western Angola. Although many of these areas typically receive very low seasonal rainfall totals, this year’s low rainfall comes on the backdrop of a severe multi-seasonal drought. Late November through early January also saw extremely high temperatures in many of the same areas, which resulted in higher water loss through evaporation, as greater potential for heat stress to both crops and livestock.
Despite the sub-optimal rains received in several parts of the region during the first half of the season, the seasonal onset of planting rains occurred without significant delay in most areas. Planting rains were received in November in most parts of the region (green colours, Figure 2). Heat stress due to the excessive temperatures that occurred during early December may have negatively affected crops in some areas.
Confirmation was received from some countries, such as Mozambique, of the negative impact of these high temperature events in southern Mozambique. In other areas like southern Zambia, field reports indicate that most planting only occurred in late December, thus avoiding the impacts of the early December heat wave.
The rains to date have provided good potential crop production outcomes in many of the southern parts of the region. Water balance models running the water requirements satisfaction index (WRSI) suggest that higher than normal percentage of the water requirements of cereal crops will be met this season, if normal rains fall for the remainder of the season (greencoloured areas in the blue oval, Figure 3). In most other areas, normal crop water availability (grey colours, Figure 3) is expected if average weather conditions occur until the end of the season. In contrast, below average water-related crop performance is expected in south-eastern South Africa, parts of northern Namibia, and parts of Angola, as shown by the orange colours in Figure 3. This is primarily due to the nature of the rainfall patterns that have occurred since the beginning of the season.
Vegetation conditions have improved vastly since November, in response to the moderate to high rains that have been received in many areas. Figure 4 shows in green the areas where vegetation conditions are above average. Vegetation, including pasture, was affected by drought during the 2015/16 season, and has been well below average in most areas. The improved rains this season have helped recovery, but many areas are still showing below average vegetation conditions, as seen by the brown colours in Figure 4. Livestock conditions remain poor in some of the areas that were more severely affected by drought last season, including parts of Zimbabwe and South Africa, and improvement is likely to take several months, if pasture conditions keep improving over the remainder of the season. In parts of South Africa, livestock mortality is still being reported. In Zimbabwe, livestock have been washed away by floods in some areas due to excessive rains.