Prospects of adequate rainfall in SADC in the 2021/22 agricultural season

SANF 21 no 38 – by Neto Nengomasha
The 2021/22 agricultural season is set to bring joy to many farmers across the region as the bulk of southern Africa is expected to receive adequate rainfall this season.

The expected good rainfall over much of the region will further boost agricultural production – the mainstay of most economies in the region — hydropower generation and filling of major water reservoirs following similar rainfall conditions experienced in the previous season.

According to the latest outlook produced by regional climate experts, “normal to above-normal” rainfall is expected across most of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) between October 2021 and March 2022.

The consensus forecast was produced by the 25th Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF 25) that met virtually on 30-31 August.

The SARCOF forecast is divided into two parts, covering October-November-December 2021 and January-February-March 2022.

The forecast shows that most of the SADC region will receive high rainfall, termed “normal to above-normal” between October and December.

“Above-normal” rainfall is defined as being within the wettest third of historically recorded rainfall amounts, while “below-normal” is within the driest third of rainfall amounts and “normal” is rainfall within the middle third.

The bulk of the Democratic Republic of Congo and some small parts of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia are however expected to receive normal to below normal rainfall in the first half.

The second half of the agricultural season, which covers the period January to March 2022, is expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall except for the south-western coastal region of Angola, and western coastal regions of both Namibia and South Africa.

In the regions expected to experience below-normal rainfall throughout the agricultural season, farmers are encouraged to plant short-season crop varieties.

The prediction of adequate rainfall means that the region is likely to experience a good harvest during the 2021/22 agricultural season which will position the region to achieve its food security status, which has previously been under threat from recurrent droughts.

In the 2020/21 season, a number of countries were able to record good harvests despite the occurrence of cyclones such as Eloise and the impact of COVID-19 which resulted in increases in post-harvest losses.

The Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa 2021, released in August shows that maize production in Eswatini is expected to increase by 15 percent this year to 98,988 tonnes while in Namibia maize yields are estimated at 53,700 tonnes, which is 25 percent above average and four percent higher than last year.

South Africa expects a maize harvest of 16.18 million tonnes, which is 5.8 percent higher than last year while Zambia produced 4,461,188 tonnes of maize against a national requirement of 2,932,208 tonnes.

The United Republic of Tanzania is expected to record surpluses in food crop production while maize production in Zimbabwe increased by 199 percent to reach 2,717,171 tonnes, accounting for a surplus of 828,263 tonnes.

In view of the predicted rainfall in the 2021/22 season, climate experts urged Member States to strengthen flood control mechanisms in light of the flood threat and ensure dams are in optimal conditions to handle high volumes of water as well as improving grain storage to minimize post-harvest losses.

There is also possibility of leaching in some areas and the outbreak of livestock diseases and crop pests such as Fall Army worm which farmers will need to prepare for.

The meeting highlighted the need for the region to further improve water harvesting infrastructure to capture as much water as possible for the subsequent seasons which may be drier.

Climate experts however stressed that this outlook is only indicative and relevant to seasonal (overlapping three-monthly) timescales and relatively large areas and may not fully account for all factors that influence regional and national climate variability, such as local and month-to-month variations.

Users are advised to contact their National Meteorological and Hydrological Services for interpretation of the outlook and further guidance and updates.

The SARCOF-25 meeting was convened under the theme, “Impact of warming ocean on our weather and climate”.

As part of the theme, the climate scientists took into account oceanic and atmospheric factors that influence the climate over the SADC region, including the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is currently in its neutral phase. The ENSO is projected to evolve into a weak La Niña phase during the forecast period resulting in the predicted rainfall conditions.

There is also an increased chance of a negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) and a neutral Subtropical Indian Ocean (SIOD) by the end of the March 2022, both of which were considered when the forecasts were developed.    

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