Study reveals widespread drought impact in southern Africa

The ongoing drought has had a widespread negative impact on the region, according to a recent assessment conducted by SACAU in partnership with Agri SA.

The results were shared at a joint media conference hosted by SACAU and Agri SA on Tuesday, 1st March 2016, in Centurion, South Africa. The keynote speakers were SACAU CEO Ishmael Sunga and Agri SA Executive Director Omri van Zyl.

The study relied on the expert opinion of farmer leaders in each country to estimate the severity of the drought and its impacts. It revealed that almost all countries in southern Africa are experiencing “severe to extremely severe” drought conditions.

“Organised agriculture has made a conscious decision to begin to drive the discussions and the solutions around the current drought,” said SACAU’s Ishmael Sunga.

The most reported issues relate to crop failure due to poor rains as well as livestock deaths due to poor grazing or lack of water.

The assessment outlines the impact of drought on livestock which has severely affected SADC countries such as South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe (declared a national disaster), parts of Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia.

It has been revealed that cattle deaths have increased tremendously, with losses of 35 000 animals reported in the southern districts of Zimbabwe alone.

The major maize producers in the region i.e. South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are expecting only half of their typical harvest. According to the SACAU report, more than 14 million people across the region will face the twin challenge of food shortages and high food prices.

The issue of decreasing water quality, dropping groundwater levels, as well as increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires were also reported among the drought impacts.

SACAU CEO Ishmael Sunga emphasised the massive impact this has had on agriculture: “Farmers in southern Africa are at the frontline of this catastrophe, and are arguably the worst affected. However, it is now time that farmers exert themselves more in crafting solutions,” he said.

The organisations recommended the use of existing and new irrigation assets (dams, boreholes, rivers) and water harvesting as well as the enhancement of resilience building programmes and actions geared towards increasing preparedness and early response.

“There needs to be resource mobilisation focused more towards consumer relief efforts. We need to think strategically. There is also a need to make long term plans and put in place 30-50 year frameworks,” said Sunga.

The current drought is expected to delay 2016 harvests, extending the lean season. The start of the green harvest, which provides alternative sources of food to poorest households is expected to start in mid-March 2016 compared to the usual February 2016.

2015 Annual Conference

In the course of the next few days, hundreds of delegates from around the world will arrive in Seychelles for the 2015 SACAU Annual Conference. The conference will be attended by a host of high-level government representatives, private sector stakeholders and international role-players, policymakers, manufacturers, farmers, retailers, financiers, development representatives and stakeholders working within African agriculture.

Agriculture in southern Africa has the potential to feed the world or to become the leading food provider on the continent. However this could remain a pipedream if the sector and governments do not actively address obstacles facing the sector. One of the key questions SACAU members and delegates need to address at the upcoming, Annual Conference to be held in Mahe, from the 25th to 26th May 2015 is, how best to maximise productivity without causing further degradation of natural resources caused by inefficient farming.

The conference will officially be opened by Mr Wallace Cosgrow, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture of Seychelles. Leading speakers (experts) on natural resources such as soils and water; forests and woodlands; rangelands; and fisheries have confirmed their attendance. Delegates will amongst others explore innovative and sustainable options for increasing agricultural productivity in the region, to ensure food security for its growing population.

SACAU members amongst others also need to look into what it would take to achieve agricultural productivity growth while ensuring the sustainability of resources – all this in the context of additional challenges posed by climate change. Some the issues delegates will grapple with are:

  • What is the impact of predicted climatic changes for Southern Africa on soil and water resources and how will this affect productivity?
  • What are the game-changing technological breakthroughs and innovative practices that can help farmers overcome their challenges?
  • Given the critical need to increase production and productivity, what approaches can enable the region to aggressively adopt climate-smart farming?

Climate change will be integrated into the conference theme given its significant implications on how resources now need to be managed.