Sadc pre-empts food security threat

Admire Ndhlovu
Southern Africa is assessing its food security situation amid preliminary indications that the region could experience a drought. The 19th Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF-19), which met in late August in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo predicted that the region is expected to receive insufficient rainfall during the forthcoming agricultural season that runs from October 2015 to March 2016.

This climate outlook for the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) is not a favourable one as the region is coming from yet another challenging situation.

As noted by the Sadc Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources director, Margaret Nyirenda the 2014/2015 rainfall season was generally poor in most parts of the region, with prolonged dry spells in countries such as Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Some parts of the region including Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique also experienced severe floods that subdued the overall regional food security situation, which had otherwise been impressive over the last few years.

Sadc Climate Service Centre Regional Coordinator Bradwell Garanganga said much of Sadc is likely to receive normal to below-normal rainfall for the periods October to December 2015 and January to March 2016, adding that “a persistent strong El Niño is also favoured during the bulk of the rainfall season.”

The El Niño effect has been associated with previous drought periods in southern Africa. The phenomenon causes the sea temperature to rise significantly in the Pacific Ocean off South America, and the air becomes dry, affecting the rain-formation process.

He noted that only the extreme northern part of Sadc and parts of island countries of Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles are expected to receive normal to above-normal rains in the first and second part of the summer season.

“The bulk of the southern tier states of continental Sadc is likely to receive normal to below-normal rainfall for the period October to December 2015 and January to March 2016,” Garanganga said in his climate outlook presentation. He, however, said since climate conditions constantly change, users should contact their national meteorological offices for latest interpretation of the outlook, finer details, updates and additional guidance.

With the impending extreme weather conditions, the Sadc region should prepare for such natural phenomena. For example, farmers could plant crops that do not take long to mature, and the region should invest more infrastructure development including roads, irrigation and silos. Improving the transport network and storage facilities will allow agricultural produce to be moved smoothly from one place with surplus to another needing additional food.

“We should invest more in irrigation, conserve dam water, and plant short season varieties,” SARCOF Principal Meteorologist Linear Gopo said.

Most economies in Sadc are largely dependent on climate conditions, and any reduction or increase in rainfall often has a negative effect on socio-economic development.

For example, Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped by three percent and eight percent after the 1983 and 1992 droughts respectively. In South Africa, the 1992 drought induced a reduction of the agricultural GDP by about ZAR 1.2 billion and caused a 0.4 to 1.0 percent loss in economic growth.

The same drought cost the Zambian government $300 million and translated into a 39 percent drop in agricultural output and a 2.8 percent decline in the country’s GDP. The SARCOF-19 Outlook comes at a time when the Kariba Dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe is experiencing declining water levels, as water coming out through the turbines is more than inflows into the dam.

The Zimbabwe Power Company, said water levels in Lake Kariba have dropped to 41 percent compared with 80 percent this time last year.

With expected low rainfall, it is likely to take longer for water levels to be at optimal. As a result, the Zambezi River Authority, which manages the dam on behalf of Zambia and Zimbabwe, has reduced water allocation for power generation at the dam by Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (Zesco) and Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa).

In a public notice on September 1, Zesa Holdings advised its customers in Zimbabwe of the reduction in power generation as a result of depleted dam water levels.

The power utility noted that there is to be a reduction in power generation at Kariba Power Station from 750MW to 475MW until dam levels have risen to requisite levels. SARCOF-19, which brought together Climate scientists from the Sadc National Meteorological and/or Hydrological Services and the Sadc Climate Services Centre was held on August 26-18.

The forum meets each year to review the rainfall season in Sadc, and discuss the potential impacts of the consensus seasonal climate outlook on other socio-economic sectors including disaster risk management, food security, health, water resources and hydropower management.

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