El Niño and cereal production shortfalls

The outcomes and responses to the harmful effects of El Niño has been dependent on the safety-net structures available in each country and region, as well as food security and trade policies, says IFPRI’s Policy Brief.

According to a new Policy Brief published by IFPRI in April 2016, the impacts of El Niño have not been felt in the same way all over the world. However, past El Niño episodes have caused rainfall and temperature fluctuations leading to agricultural production shortfalls, higher food prices, and disease outbreaks that adversely affected food and nutrition security in various regions worldwide.

“El Niño and cereal production shortfalls: Policies for resilience and food security in 2016 and beyond” discusses the effects of the El Niño on cereal production across the impacted regions. According to the report, while some regions have experience the negative aftermath of El Niño, such as reduced rainfalls that as a result disrupted the harvest calendar, delaying planting, maturation and in some cases the soil fertility in itself; the alternation of  the rain patters has had positive effects on some regions.

Although the cereal production at a global level has been negatively affected, the authors note that the otherwise steady increase for the last few years helped build up strong grain reserves and the projected production is still above the three-year average. They remark that price transmission between global and local markets and the effects of events such as El Niño depend on specific trade policies, such as open borders and transparent institutions.

The authors of the Policy Brief recommend that to be able to aid the population most vulnerable to the changing weather patterns, it is important to have emergency relief projects already designed and well-structured as well as scaled-up targeted safety net programs.

Highlighted in the report are successful models such as Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme; which combines food and cash transfers to Ethiopia’s poorest and most food-insecure households with a work requirement for able-bodied recipients. Similarly, countries like Mexico and Peru have developed contingent funds for natural disasters that significantly increase resilience to El Niño. Mexico has catastrophic insurance in place, primarily for smallholders, which covers 22.2 million hectares and has helped to transfer a significant portion of risk to insurance companies.

Such government-supported mechanisms should be expanded, particularly for regions that routinely experience shocks such as pastoral areas of the Horn of Africa, notes report.

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