Southern Africa dealing with erratic precipitation

by Eric Schroeder
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ROME, ITALY — Well below-average rains and higher-than-average temperatures in January, coupled with erratic rainfall since the beginning of the cereal crop season in October 2017, have caused water stress and adversely affected crop development in Southern Africa, according to a special alert issued Feb. 26 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The FAO said it now expects cereal production in Southern Africa during 2018 to fall from the record levels of 2017, though output is expected to remain in line with the five-year average.

“While the decrease would mostly reflect lower yields, an expected yearonyear contraction in the harvested area, notably in the commercial sector and mostly on account of lower grain prices in 2017, should also negatively weigh on the production outlook,” the FAO said.

Key growing regions expected to be most affected by the weather include Lesotho, southern and central areas of Mozambique, western South Africa, southern parts of Zambi and Malawi, eastern Zimbabwe and southwestern Madagascar.

Maize production in Southern Africa is expected to decline in 2018, the FAO said, but supply conditions remain favorable for the crop after a record subregional output in 2017 of 32.2 million tonnes, up 43% over the previous five-year average.

“The aggregate 2017 maize harvest of the subregion excluding South Africa (a net exporter and the largest producer in the subregion) exceeded aggregate domestic requirements in the 2017-18 marketing year (generally April/March), a situation that has not transpired since 2011-12,” the FAO noted in the report.

The FAO said reduced harvests are expected to lead to increased food insecurity in 2018, particularly in the countries where rainfall deficits were most severe. But the situation is still expected to be better than in 2016, when approximately 17.7 million were estimated to be food insecure due to the impact on agriculture caused by the El Niño-associated drought, the agency noted in the report.

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