While favourable food security conditions prevail across most of southern Africa, early warning signs provide alarming indications of looming significant food supply shortages that are likely to impact on the next marketing season starting from July 2015. The single major determinant of the negative performance is the erratic and unusually uncharacteristic rainfall season that has just ended.
Despite a promising forecast by SARCOF in 2014, rains generally were late to arrive and irregular thereafter. Heavy rains were observed in early January leading to flooding particularly in Madagascar,
Malawi and Mozambique, while prolonged dry spells affected the southern and eastern parts, including South Africa’s maize belt. The figure 1 below shows the maize Water Ratio Satisfaction Index (WRSI) for the second dekad of March, providing clear indications through the yellowish, brownish and red colours of the percent water deficit experienced by the crop during this period. During this month there were very pronounced rainfall deficits across the region which resulted in crop under development and in some cases decrease of vegetation levels.
The rains experienced in late March and early April provided some relief to livestock farmers, but arrived too late for both staple food and cash crops. These adverse weather conditions are likely to reduce crop production in southern Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi, Madagascar and South Africa. South Africa, the largest producer in the region; accounting for more than 40% of regional maize output; has estimated a maize production fall of 33% on account of reduced yields raising serious concerns about the prospects of negative impact on food access through downstream dependant markets of the region in the upcoming 2015/16 consumption year. Additionally, there are concerns that the recent spate of xenophobic violence in South Africa will lead to a drop in remittance flows to other countries in the region, which could have an effect on food and nutrition security.
Production is also forecast to decrease significantly in Malawi, especially for cereals where imports may be required to fill the gap. In addition an estimated 616,000 people will require food assistance until mid-year as a result of the January floods. The impact of excessive rains was extensive to Malawi and Mozambique surplus northern and central areas where it affected market access through destruction of critical roads and displacement. While crop assessment is still on-going in Mozambique it is likely that pockets of the affected surplus areas will experience reduced yields. Madagascar rice production yields are reported to be affected by prolonged waterlogging during critical stages of the crop development, adding to the impact of crop loss due to prolonged dry spells in the southern parts of the country.
In Zambia (the second biggest surplus country of the region) may only realize a small surplus, which may just be enough to cover domestic requirements and marginally cover the demand from neighbouring countries.
Of great concern is Zimbabwe, which is facing a looming huge food deficit due to imminent widespread crop failure: by February 2015 an estimated 23% of cultivated land was considered lost; and as dry spells have continued, more areas were affected, increasing the likelihood of a much bigger area loss, aggravated by further yield decrease.