El Nino threatens African crops, economies

2015-10-03 10:26
South Africa has a surplus of maize, but 30% of maize meal and wheat products do not comply with the legal requirement that cereals have to be enriched with minerals such as iron and zinc and vitamins like vitamin A.

South Africa has a surplus of maize, but 30% of maize meal and wheat products do not comply with the legal requirement that cereals have to be enriched with minerals such as iron and zinc and vitamins like vitamin A. (L.G. Patterson)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Potchefstroom - Standing waist-deep in a hole, South African maize farmer Tom van Rooyen digs at the side with a small pickaxe.

"There is moisture 25cm down but nothing beyond that. If we get below-average rains, it will be a disaster," he said, wiping the red dust from his calloused hands.

Poor rains are forecast for South Africa's maize belt because of the El Nino weather pattern, expected to bring more drought to already-parched southern regions in Africa and potential flooding in the east.

This will add misery to the world's poorest continent, already reeling from a collapse in commodity prices triggered by China's slowing economic growth.

Aid agency Oxfam warned this week that 10 million people, mostly in Africa, face hunger because of droughts and unusual rainfall patterns caused by a "super" El Nino.

Also called "Little Boy" or "Christ Child" - Peruvian fishermen first noted it around Christmas - El Nino is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years. The last "super" El Nino occurred in 1997-1998.

While the weather phenomenon heralds drought in some parts of the globe and flooding in others, this one follows record temperatures linked to global warming.

El Nino causes drought

Drought cut the staple maize crop in South Africa, the region's biggest producer, by about a third this past season. It is likely to continue into the southern hemisphere summer as El Nino strengthens.

According to Thomson Reuters data, futures for the white maize contract used for human consumption - the staple of the poor - hit record highs over R3 000 a ton in July and are within striking distance of that.

Inflation in Africa's most advanced economy moderated to 4.6% in August from 5% in July, but the central bank has warned that drought remains a concern because of its impact on food prices.

Drought has also hit South Africa's sugar crop, which the Cane Growers Association forecasts will fall to 14.9 million tons in the 2015-16 season from 17.7 million tons last year, which was already stunted, a fall of 15%.

South Africa is the world's second-largest citrus exporter, a 9 billion rand industry, and the northern Limpopo region which accounts for a third of the crop is under water restrictions, industry sources say.

Hunger in Zim

Neighbouring Zimbabwe has been hit hard by drought that has halved the maize harvest to 742 000 tons this year, according to the UN's World Food Programme.

The government says drought is a major reason it cut the 2015 growth forecast to 1.5% from 3.2%. Aid agencies say 1.5 million Zimbabweans, or 16% of the population, would need food aid by next March.

The drought has also reduced power generation to 475MW from 750MW at the Kariba Hydro electricity plant, after water levels at the dam fell, forcing mines to reduce output in neighbouring Zambia, Africa's second-biggest copper producer.

In west Africa, a lack of rainfall across Ghana's cocoa belt has raised fears that the world's No 2 grower could be facing another poor crop.

In Ethiopia, 4.5 million people need food aid because of El Nino and long-term climate change, according to UN agencies.

However, the case in east Africa's biggest economy, Kenya, will be more mixed, according to Peter Ambenje, assistant director at its Meteorological Department. El Nino typically brings increased rains to Africa's east.

"Enhanced rainfall will boost farming even though farmers need to be aware of prevalence of diseases due to high moisture levels that may cause post-harvest losses," he told Reuters.

Recent El Nino events brought floods to Kenya in 1997-1998 and 2006-2007, resulting in losses of lives, harvests and livestock as well as infrastructure damage and outbreaks of hunger and disease.

Back in South Africa, Van Rooyen says he expects a tough year, but retains the stoic faith of a farmer.

"When they forecast a bad El Nino in the late 1990s, I still planted," he said, manoeuvring his pick-up through the fields. "Then the rains came and I had a good crop that year.

Read more on:    kenya  |  zimbabwe  |  south africa  |  ethiopia  |  drought  |  el nino  |  weather

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.