Crop and livestock production prospects in southern Africa have been weakened by the El Niño weather phenomenon that has lowered rains and increased temperatures. This was reported by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in December 2015.
A reduced agricultural output would follow on last year's disappointing season, which has already contributed to higher food prices. The season for planting maize in southern Africa has already experienced delays, while crops sown stand to be negatively affected due to inadequate rains and higher temperatures.
The region's small-scale farmers are almost entirely dependent on rain, rendering their output highly susceptible to its variations. While El Niño's impact depends highly on location and season - the impact of El Niño on agricultural production appears more muted in northern areas - past strong episodes have been associated with reduced production in several countries, including South Africa, which is the largest cereal producer in the sub-region and typically exports maize to neighbouring countries.
According to FAO, this El Niño appears to be the strongest episode in 18 years. It will peak at the start of 2016, before the usual harvest time for farmers in southern Africa.
South Africa has already declared drought status for five provinces, its main cereal producing re-gions, while Lesotho has issued a drought mitigation plan and Swaziland has implemented water restrictions as reservoir levels have become low.
Beyond southern Africa, FAO’s analysis of El Niño-related conditions also points to agricultural stress in northern Australia, parts of Indonesia and a wide swathe of Central America and Brazil. El Niño's effect is also being felt elsewhere in Africa, with FAO field officers in Ethiopia reporting serious crop and livestock losses among farmers and pastoralists.