Prospects for a Bumper Harvest in the Region Unlikely
15 January 2000
by Diana Mavunduse
The prime November planting period in southern Africa passed without the expected significar
soaking rains, which has restricted planting and land preparations in the main grain regions c
Swaziland and Zimbabwe while most farnlers in Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania resorted to dr
Climate experts, however had predicted above-average rainfall in a seasonal forecast issued last
September by the Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) for much of the
region.' Only the northern and eastern. parts of Tanzania were forecast to have below-normal
precipitĄtion through the critical October to March rainy season.
However, contrary to the forecast, rains came much too late and in some cases not at all, leaving man
countries facing serious food security problems.
In Tanzania, once the early short rains were over, dry conditions prevail leaving poor harve'
prospects and food security problems across most of the country except in the northwest and Lake
Angola, crippled by civil war, has gloomy production prospects for this harvest season. Production
hampered by poor rains and the on-going violence which has forced people to flee their fields for
relative safety of government-controlled cities.
The fighting, which has intensified in recent months in the main cereal growing central highlands, has
led to the displacement of over a million people. Most refugees are now camped in barren terrain in
cities such as Huambo, Malange, Kuito, Ltlena and Uige.
Reports from UN agencies operating in Angola indicate worsening food security prospects. Accordin
to the official Angolan radio station RNA, crop yields may also drop in the coastal province of
Benguela due to flooding caused by torrential rains which killed 14 people and left 8,000 homeless.
The rains burst the river Coporolo's banks flooding 6,000 hectares of land and destroyed up to 22,000
million tonnes worth nearly US$I 0 million.
Malawi's Meteorological Department predicted that most parts of the country would receive normal
to above normal rainfall during the rainy season. However, only erratic rains were experienced in the
Northern and parts of the Central Region from October to December.
Harvests are also likely to be adversely affected by lack of fertilizer, especially among smallhold,
tarmers. Recent media reports indicate that the government has launched a US$29 million food
security scheme to boost agricultural productivity by providing an estimated 2.8 million farming
households with t'ree fertilizer and seeds.
Reports in Zimbabwe indicate that despite torecasts of above-average rains, maize output may decline
from the 1.54 million tonnes produced last season due to low prices to producers and high input costs.
However, October thunderstorms throughout the country enabled most communal famers to embark
on early land preparation in readiness tor the cropping season.
SARCOF reveals that most of Botswana received below normal rainfall during the October
December 1999 period.
Assessment of crop growing conditions by the SADC Regional Early Warning Unit shovys that as of
January, widespread rains were experienced throughout the region bringing relief to the moisture
stressed crops in central and eastern parts of the region,
"Although some crops were already wilting or highly stressed, it is expected that most will recovel
although yields might be slightly compromised," says Kennedy Masamwu, coordinator of the
Regional Remote Sensing Unitin Zimbabwe,
According to the regional SADC Food Security Quarterly Bulletin, AgroMet, most of the crop
growing areas of South Africa, Swaziland, southern Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and Angola
have had good rains at the beginning of January 2000.
Some areas, especially in Angola and Swaziland are however beginning to suffer from water-Iogging
crop nutrient leaching and weed control.
"For the 1999/2000 marketing year, SADC faces a regional deficit of 2.77 million tonnes for a
cereals .tombined, whilst the total cereal availability of 24.00 million tonnes is insufficient to cover
total requirements estimated at 26.76 million tonnes," reports AgroMet.
Agricultural experts are now encouraging t'arnlers to use early maturing varieties of grain to counter
the late onset of rains that has been experienced throughout the region for the past three year