Many areas received below-normal rainfall coupled with high temperatures during the late part of the 2014/15 summer season. This adversely affected crops in several provinces. Pastures also began to deteriorate. The winter season received rainfall in some of the winter rainfall areas but it remained dry in summer rainfall areas. The dry conditions continued into the 2015 spring season. As a result of the dry conditions extending from the end of the 2014/15 summer into spring, pastures became increasingly reduced in many areas which lead to livestock condition’s deteriorating and also included loss of soil moisture. Drought has also been reported in a number of provinces. There was rainfall in September and October and maximum temperatures with heat waves recorded were high, particularly during September. More rain is needed for farmers to plant and for the veld and livestock to recover. The levels of dams in the provinces are lower compared to the previous year during the same period. Water restrictions have been put in place in some provinces.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) report issued during September indicated that after below-normal harvests during the 2014/15 agricultural season, poor households in southern parts of Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Madagascar, Lesotho, and Angola are now relying entirely on market purchases for their staple food because own-produced cereal stocks were finished months earlier than usual. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) is a set of standardised tools that aims at providing a “common currency” for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity.
Some poor households in the southern region of Zimbabwe, Malawi and parts of Madagascar are already experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity because higher than normal food prices are hindering access. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in several other parts of the region. The only areas in the region where acute food insecurity will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) through December include South Africa, northern Zambia and northern Tanzania, where households are still consuming their own-produced cereals.
A recent report by the World Food Programme states that early indications of an El Niño event expected to peak in the last quarter of 2015 may become one of the strongest events of the past 30 years. For southern Africa, El Niño usually means fewer rains during the main December to March crop-growing period. As such, this is likely to result in late planning, poor crop conditions and high/increasing cereal prices, all of which could heighten food insecurity and lead to acute malnutrition in some areas.
According to the seasonal forecast issued by the South African Weather Service in October, above-normal rainfall is anticipated during the early part of summer over the north-eastern and south-western regions of the country. Below-normal rainfall is expected for the remainder of summer. Maximum temperatures are anticipated to be above-normal throughout summer. With the seasonal forecast in mind, and the current drought/very dry conditions in provinces, farmers are advised to approach the season with extra caution.
Dryland farmers should wait for sufficient moisture before planting: rather plant early than late and stay within the normal planting window. Furthermore, they should consider drought-tolerant and short-season cultivars, which include sorghum where possible. Farmers should reduce the planting area in line with water restrictions in their areas and also consider the below-normal rainfall forecast. Farmers should follow the weather and climate forecasts regularly so as to make informed decisions. Water and other resources need to be continually conserved in accordance with the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (Act No. 43 of 1983).
Livestock must continually be kept in line with the veld’s carrying capacity and should be provided with additional feed, including licks to give sufficient nutrition. Farmers are advised to further reduce livestock to protect the limited pastures, i.e. by selling of animals. Field fires have been reported in some provinces and the risk remains high for conditions conducive for veld fires as the veld is dry. Farmers are encouraged to maintain firebreaks in summer rainfall areas and adhere to veld fire warnings. In winter rainfall areas, farmers should begin establishing measure in place for veld fires. Severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and hail, as well as heat waves, are likely to occur and therefore measures to combat these should be in place. Isolated localised flooding is also possible, especially in summer rainfall areas; precautionary measures for these should be in place.