Ag Weather Forum

Drought Cripples Africa Food Supply

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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Exceptional drought in South Africa is decimating the nation's corn crop, and will force extensive food imports in the continent during the next year. (Graphic courtesy of USDA FAS)

We continue to see the downside of El Nino affecting the African continent. The most prominent phenomenon is drought in South Africa; however, there are a number of areas across Africa having issues with food supply this year.

The U.S. Agency for International Development Early Warning System Network issued an Outlook Brief for April, which noted 10 million people in Ethiopia may be in food crisis later this year. Africa will need millions of tons food aid later this year. The report specifies that "Food producers, shipping companies, port operators and relief organizations can expect major activity around drought-stricken areas, including southern Africa and Ethiopia." The amount allocated for help in Africa has had a sizeable increase in the past two years. Government data compiled by Bloomberg indicates that contract spending by all U.S. federal agencies across all of Africa totaled $2.941 billion in fiscal 2015, the highest level in the last 10 years.

The end of the growing season in South Africa has brought only sketchy precipitation. In the final update on crop weather conditions for South Africa in the 2015-16 season, USDA describes the scene this way: "Mostly dry, unseasonably warm weather dominated the main eastern production areas, speeding maturation of corn and other rain-fed summer crops. Moderate rain (greater than 10 millimeters) fell in central sections of North West and isolated locations in Gauteng and Free State; otherwise, little to no rain fell in the corn belt or in sugarcane areas of KwaZulu-Natal and eastern Mpumalanga. Weekly average temperatures were 3 degrees Celsius or more above normal, with daytime highs reaching the 30s (degrees C) in northern sections of the corn belt (North West to northern Mpumalanga) and in the sugarcane areas."

(Note: 30 degrees Celsius equates to the low to mid-90s Fahrenheit. Also, a temperature trend of 3 degrees Celsius above normal equates to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. That's a big departure from normal.)

A notable takeaway item is that El Nino has not given up the ghost. Despite numerous predictions of the Pacific suddenly spinning on a dime from El Nino to La Nina, the ocean has not done that, nor does it act that way. Just as we have seen in other parts of the world with El Nino-signature weather happenings, the ongoing Africa dryness is another example of the persistence of the 2015-16 El Nino.

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