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FAO warns against food shortage in Southern Africa
Time:28 Dec 2015
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Source: Globaltimes
Crop and livestock production prospects in Southern Africa have been weakened by the El Nino weather phenomenon which has lowered rains and increased temperatures, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says in its latest report.

A reduced agricultural output will follow on last year's disappointing season, which has already contributed to higher food prices and could impact the food security situation in 2016, FAO says in a special alert issued on Wednesday.

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, says FAO.

"It's the sixth week of the cropping season now and there's not enough moisture in the soil," said Shukri Ahmed, FAO Deputy Strategic Programme Leader -Resilience.

The region's small-scale farmers are almost entirely dependent on rain, rendering their output highly susceptible to its variations.

While El Nino's impact depends highly on location and season - the impact of El Nino 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.

The current El Nino 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.

"Weather forecasts indicate a higher probability of a continuation of below-normal rains between December and March across most countries," says the alert.

South Africa has already declared drought status for five provinces, its main cereal producing regions, while Lesotho has issued a drought mitigation plan and Swaziland has implemented water restrictions as reservoir levels have become low.

The likelihood of another poor season is troublesome as it comes on the heels of a poor one that has already depleted inventories, tightened supplies and pushed up local prices, FAO said.

The sub-regional maize production fell by 27 percent in 2015, triggering a sharp increase in the number of people already vulnerable to food insecurity in the region.

"Maize prices in southern Africa are really getting high," said Shukri," the report says, adding currencies in the sub-region are very weak, which together can exacerbate the situation.

El Nino'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.

To reduce the adverse effects of El Nino, FAO has triggered several interventions across southern Africa that are also building on existing programs following last season's reduced production.

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