Climate Change

Agriculture, food security and livestock in southern Africa most vulnerable to climate hazards: FAO

Cyclone Idai alone destroyed crops over 0.78 million hectares in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, highlighted the UN agency’s recent report   

By Kiran Pandey, Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 29 July 2019
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently flagged a set of climate hazards that debilitated southern Africa. The United Nation agency’s report marked out poor and erratic seasonal rainfall, mid-season dry spells and early cessation of rain, coupled with devastating cyclones.

The fallouts of the adverse weather events have been poor crop production, food insecurity and livestock deaths, according to Early Warning Early Action Report on Food Security and Agriculture.

Tropical cyclone Idai alone destroyed crop over 780,000 hectares in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

A strong drought, driven by El Niño, affected central and western parts of the region between October 2018 and March 2019. This included many areas of southern Angola, northern and southern Botswana, northern Namibia, north-western South Africa, southern and western Zambia and north-western Zimbabwe.

These areas received the least seasonal rainfall since 1981, climate experts pointed out. The

dry season affected agriculture and the livestock economy.

Sea surface temperatures increase in central-tropical Pacific Ocean during El Niño, leading to a sustained weakening of the trade winds.

The phenomenon had also changed weather conditions in southern Africa in 1997-1998 and resulted in drought and crop failure, particularly maize. This led to food shortages in southern Africa.

The 2018-19 rainy season started 10-20 days late in most areas of the region and 30-60 days late in eastern South Africa, Lesotho, southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, and northern Namibia.

Rainfall totals in these areas were at least 30 per cent below average, according to an alert by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

In fact, more than a third of Zimbabwe’s rural households — around 3.5 million people — have been affected by drought. By December, the number is likely to cross 4.7 million, warned the UN World Food Programme.

The drought resulted in crop failure, reduced pasture and low water availability. These dry conditions affected the livestock too. For example, Namibia recorded more than 64,000 drought-related cattle deaths between October 2018 and April 2019.

The impact on production in Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania has been much less. The situation was difficult for Zimbabwe though, according to the FAO report: Increasing  fuel prices and poor access to food and other basic necessities have affected the economy.

Early actions needed

Food security outcomes are expected to further deteriorate by 2019-end due to poor rainfall and Cyclone Idai, warned the FAO report.

Poor harvest due to these conditions may lead to high food prices, which will further affect Zimbabwe.

Humanitarian assistance continues in areas severely affected by the cyclone. But it is worrying that the lean season is likely to start earlier than usual across southern Africa. Household food stocks will not last until the next harvest and household production capacity for the coming season will be undermined.

According to the most recent estimates on Mozambique, 1.65 million people currently (April-September 2019) face difficulties in accessing food. This is projected to increase to nearly 2 million between by February 2020.

Water management and restoring food production among the most vulnerable farmers will be critical in the next three months (July-September), suggested FAO. It recommended mapping community watering points and rehabilitating or establishing them for agriculture and livestock in affected provinces/regions in southern Angola, northern Namibia, southern Zambia and central and western Zimbabwe.

Providing seeds and tools to the most vulnerable farmers will be essential in restoring food production at household and community level. So, this should be specially targeted to help the most vulnerable farmers in Eswatini, Lesotho, Gaza province in Mozambique, northern Namibia, southern Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Similarly most livestock keepers must be provided with supplementary feed for the critical breeding livestock in Namibia, central/western/southern Zambia, and Zimbabwe, suggested the UN agency.

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