Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
The latest regional rainfall forecast for the 2019-2020 cropping season shows that most SADC countries are likely to receive normal to above normal rainfall, bringing hope and cheer to farmers still reeling from a drought that ravaged most parts in the previous season.
Predictions issued by climate experts at the 23rd Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SACORF-13), which was held in Angola recently, indicate that the bulk of SADC is likely to receive normal to above normal rainfall for most of the period October to December (OND) 2019.
However, in northern Mozambique, southern Tanzania, northern Malawi, northernmost Zambia, bulk of DRC, north-western half of Angola, northern Madagascar and Comoros, normal to below-normal rains are expected.
The January to March (JFM) 2020 period is expected to have normal to above normal rainfall for most parts of the region, with the eastern half of Tanzania, eastern half of Botswana, westernmost parts of Namibia, bulk of South Africa, bulk of Mozambique, southern Malawi, eastern Lesotho, central Zambia, southernmost Madagascar, south-western most Angola, Eswatini and Zimbabwe expected to receive normal to below normal rainfall amounts.
“This outlook is relevant only to seasonal (overlapping three-monthly) time-scales and relatively large areas and may not fully account for all factors that influence regional and national climate variability, such as local and month-to-month variations (intra-seasonal),” a Sarcof statement indicated.
Most SADC countries are now analysing the regional forecast to come up with local climatic predictions.
The 2018-2019 rainfall season was largely affected by the El Niño phenomenon, which is usually associated with droughts in the region.
The main October to April rainfall season saw a huge reduction of the summer harvest across the region, which largely depends on rainfall and minimal irrigation.
A regional food security assessment report which was issued in July this year showed that southern Africa has a cereal deficit of more than 5,4 million tonnes this year, after a drought-ravaged the entire sub-continent last season.
Food security experts said the region produced about 37,5 million tonnes of cereals, compared to 42,9 million tonnes in the 2017-2018 cropping season.
The report was based on the 11 Sadc member states that provided cereal balance sheets for the 2018-2019 harvest year.
The region’s top cereal producer — South Africa — saw a reduction of its output by 19 percent from 18,7 million tonnes during 2017-2018 season to 15,1 million tonnes in the just-ended season.
Zambia, which is fast emerging as one of the regional cereal producer, experienced a 14,7 percent decline in production from 2,6 million tonnes to 2,2 million tonnes over the same period.
The southern Africa region recorded the lowest rainfall in nearly four decades in the 2018-2019 cropping season, resulting in increased food insecurity and water shortages in all countries.
A SADC Food Security Early Warning System Agromet update for the 2018-2019 cropping season indicates that a strong drought affected central and western parts of the region during the just-ended rainfall season.
“Many parts of southern Angola, northern and southern Botswana, northern Namibia, north-western South Africa, southern and western Zambia and north-western Zimbabwe received their lowest seasonal (October-March) rainfall totals since at least 1981,” the report highlighted.
The low seasonal rainfall totals observed in the region, the report said, were primarily the result of delayed and erratic onset of rains in several areas that resulted in reduced area planted and poor germination.
A mid-season dry spell of varying duration also resulted in moisture stress and wilting of crops, while an early cessation of rains across central areas further exacerbated pre-mature wilting of crops.
Furthermore, in mid-March, Cyclone Idai destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of cropland in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
“Cumulatively, these factors reduced end of season production prospects due to reductions in planted area, reduced yields, and outright crop failure in some areas,” a SADC Agromet report said.
“At a local scale, the poor seasonal performance will have the most severe impacts in cropping areas where widespread crop failure occurred, as well as areas with pre-existing high levels of food insecurity due to poor 2017-2018 seasonal production.”
Zimbabwe has 800 000 tonnes in its reserves against a consumption of 1,8 million tonnes, forcing the country to import grain to fill up the gap.
The impact of the drought that swept across the SADC region last season has been felt across all sectors, including agriculture, food and nutrition security, tourism, energy, health, water and sanitation and education.
A majority of small-scale farmers are struggling to produce enough food to feed their families owing to the drought that ravaged most parts of the region.
Dam levels have dropped to their worst levels in decades, while pasture and water scarcity has decimated livestock and crops running into millions of dollars.
A SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Synthesis Report 2019 indicates that from June 2019-March 2020, up to 24 million people are estimated to be food insecure, of which over 7,5 million require humanitarian assistance.
But the 2019-2020 season is likely to bring cheer to the parched SADC region, while in some drought-prone parts, it may pile misery.
Regional climate experts could not give tropical storm predictions at the just-ended forum in Angola.
Hanyadzisi Batisai, a climate expert said the World Meteorological Organisation Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre in La Reunion is likely to convene a meeting in October this year to discuss to tropical cyclones and other extreme weather conditions that may affect the region this season.
Climate change is increasingly becoming a major challenge for most African countries, with the continent’s poorest people hardest hit.
Scientists say people in Africa have limited capacity to deal with hazards that are coming with extreme weather conditions that have in recent years led to large-scale destruction.
Even climate experts say it’s becoming more complex to make predictions due to rapidly changing conditions and interactions between humans and their environment.
Said Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE) climate scientist Professor Desmond Manatsa: “Climate change has destroyed the relationship between weather, environment and human activities.
“Climate change has destroyed that relationship that we used to have.
“This has brought uncertainty, which is now affecting forecasting.
“We do not fully comprehend what climate change has in store for us.
“Dimensions that we used to have to make predictions with high predictability has been eroded. We are moving towards chaos.”