El Niño-Driven Drought Continues to Threaten Livelihoods, Food Security throughout Southern Africa
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South Africa is in the throes of the worst drought in 30 years, according to a recent BBC article. Driven by the on-going El Niño cycle, below average rainfall and above average temperatures have limited crop development and water availability throughout the region.

Five provinces in South Africa’s north and east regions have been declared agricultural disaster zones. Poor rainfall has led to delayed planting, or even no planting, in many areas; the BBC article cites many farmers who say that if major rains do not come within the next two weeks, nothing will be planted this season. This will also impact the livestock sector, as lower crop production means less animal fodder.

The BBC article states that South Africa’s stock of white maize will be sufficient until the end of April, but yellow maize stocks are already extremely tight. In a joint statement released by FEWS.net, the World Food Programme, the European Commission, and FAO, estimates of South Africa’s maize output for this season are at 7.4 million tons, a 25 percent drop from last year’s already low harvests and 36 percent below the five-year average for the country. 

South African President Jacob Zuma made a statement in early February in which he said that approximately 2.7 million households will be impacted by the drought through lowered agricultural output, higher food prices, and increased unemployment. The government has also set aside 450 million rand (US$ 29 million) to assist farmers. However, many smallholder and subsistence farmers will likely continue to struggle in the coming months. The UN estimates that as many as 11 million children in east and southern Africa could be at risk from the resulting hunger, disease, and water shortages.

Zimbabwe is also facing the threat of widespread hunger due to the drought. According to a recent AllAfrica article, in 2015, the country only produced around 800,000 tons of maize due to poor conditions; an estimated 1.8 million tons of grain is needed to supply both food to the population and animal fodder.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe declared a state of emergency in the country in early February in the hopes of speeding up the flow of international aid. It is estimated that $US 1.5 billion will be needed to avert widespread hunger in the country.

The drought in Zimbabwe comes on the heels of other economic woes in the country, including rising unemployment. This means that for many households, imported food is also out of reach. In addition, the supply of imported grain may soon take a hit as well – last week, the government of Zambia restricted maize meal exports in an effort to protect its own domestic food supply.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam