Rains bring glimmer hope to distressed SADC agro sector

Maize crop

Maize crop

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) THE rains that fell in the past few weeks, albeit destructive in some cases, have lifted the doom around the agricultural sector across several countries in the Southern African region.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), Zambia has been receiving above-average rainfall since January, which has helped relieve short-term dryness affecting the country since December.

A complete moisture recovery has been observed in north-central and southern parts of South Africa, while continued below-average rainfall through the end of January is expected to maintain and strengthen dry conditions in much of Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique.

The rainfall season has also been favorable in Tanzania, despite some flooding in coastal areas.

FEW NET has forecast above-average rainfall across Southern Africa, with heavy rain expected to continue over northeastern parts of the region and Madagascar.

Nonetheless, below-seasonal rain is expected over Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Namibia.

In the regional agricultural hub, South Africa, soil moisture has improved notably in most summer crop growing areas of the country.

There are also welcomed improvements in moisture in the central regions of the Eastern Cape and southern Free State. These areas have experienced severe drought over the past couple of months.

Aside from the Western Cape, which is a winter rainfall area, only the southwestern regions of the Eastern Cape, fringes of the Free State, North West and the northern regions of KwaZulu-Natal are still experiencing soil moisture stress.

“This means that agricultural activity in these specific areas are still strained,” said Wandile Sihlobo, the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) economist, said.

“While soil moisture is good for now, more rain will still be needed during the season for crop development,” he added.

In a welcome development, the major summer grains and oilseeds growing areas of South Africa are in better shape.

Various market players estimate South Africa’s maize production at a range of 12 million tonnes and 14 million tonnes.

This would be a notable improvement from the 2018/19 season when 11,2 million tonnes were harvested.

Nonetheless, area plantings data is due at the end of this month. The South African Weather Service’s outlook update is also due around the same time.

As set out in the Agbiz previous note, as of January, about 90 percent of the estimated 2,5 million hectares of maize in 2019/20 production season had already been planted.

“A large part of this, however, was planted way beyond optimal planting dates, which means that the crop will mature much later than in normal seasons,” Sihlobo said.

Therefore, a lot can still happen in the coming weeks, and it might be too early to pencil a number of what South Africa’s summer grains and oilseeds harvest could be,” the Agbiz economist stated.

In Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region, climatic shocks continue to affecting millions of people in the Southern Africa. Because of successive poor rainfall and failed harvests, extensive areas have suffered severe droughts that are straining food availability.

The World Food Programme disclosed recently that a record 45 million Southern Africans are food insecure as the region enters the peak of the lean season (January-March 2020).

The scarcity has resulted in incessant increases in commodities, particularly maize, which is a staple across the region.

– CAJ News

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