HARARE, Zimbabwe, February 12, 2018/ — Prolonged dry spells, erratic rainfall, high temperatures and the presence of the voracious fall armyworm have significantly dampened Southern Africa’s current agricultural season’s cereal production prospects. Early action in the form of consolidating information through assessments and anticipatory measures that reduce the impact of threats are crucial for an effective response.

Fall Armyworm, which first emerged last season, has compounded the situation as it continues to spread within national territories and beyond. The pest is now present across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) except Mauritius and Lesotho. Partial fall armyworm monitoring has pointed to Malawi as the hotspot in the 2017/18 season, and the country has since declared a national disaster.

“FAO concludes that the damage may already have been done. Whether the dry spells continue, or a lot of rainfall is received within a short period, crop production is likely to be negatively affected and consequently, water supplies for humans and livestock,” said David Phiri, the FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa.

Poor season signals food and nutrition insecurity, limits income-generating opportunities

A Special Alert issued by the Food and Nutrition Security Working Group Southern Africa (FNSWG) painted a worrying picture of the situation, as many farmers from the region planted late while in some areas of Botswana, southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe did not plant at all. According to the Alert, South Africa—the largest producer of white maize in the region–has reported a 22 percent decline in area planted this season.

The poor rains and the presence of the fall armyworm, the Special Alert says, have far reaching consequences on access to adequate food and nutrition during the 2018/19-consumption year. Additionally, this will limit income-generating opportunities resulting in far reaching consequences on food and income security gains made in recent years.

The outlook marks a sharp swing from a largely successful 2016/17 summer cropping season that saw a significant improvement in cereal output across the region. However, the 2016/17 season is sandwiched by poor seasons as 2015/16 was characterized by an El Niño induced drought that left the region with a huge cereal deficit.

Southern Africa continues to experience shocks

Intermittent rains preceded the two seasons, which affected crop production and affected pastures. In some cases, a diametrically opposite situation prevailed, as some areas, for example in parts of Mozambique and Malawi where floods washed crops and livestock away.

Southern Africa continues to experience weather shocks, which threaten human, and livestock and these have become more pronounced with changes in climate. Phiri said it was imperative that stakeholders including the UN, SADC, funding partners, non-governmental organizations and the private sector come together to attain a “convergence of thought on the evolving situation.”

“There is an urgent need to determine the scale and possible impact of the prolonged dry spell on the season and intervene immediately. It is equally important to draw lessons from previous experiences and implement proven resilience-building interventions such as prepositioning water infrastructure, supplementary feeds and disease surveillance for livestock,” added Phiri.

Additional interventions which proved successful in the past seasons include input support for winter crop production on existing irrigation facilities, capacitating farmers for good post-harvest practices to minimize and avoid further losses as well as input support to restore agricultural production in the 2018/19 main cropping season.

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