Botswana and her neighbours are still to conduct national crop yield assessments while there are already signs that the dry spell is most likely to affect food production in the region again this year.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Food Security Early Warning System Agromet report, released this month, observes that the rainfall situation between February 12 and March 4 this year has been below normal in Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe although the extent of the impact in each country is yet to be determined.
The report says maize crops in parts of Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe were observed to be highly moisture stressed, and significant rainfall is required to avoid widespread permanent wilting as the rainy season comes to a close.
The Director at the Department of Crop Production in the Ministry of Agriculture, Pharaoh Mosupi, would not immediately provide information as to what the situation looks like in Botswana and could only say that his office has still to get crop yield reports from field officers countrywide.
“Member states have not yet carried out food production assessments for the current crop season.
Hence it is premature to be definite on what will be the food security situation for the 2013/14 marketing year. However, recent reports and qualitative assessments indicate that the SADC region may be facing a difficult year in terms of food crop production,” Bentry Chaura – Senior Programme Officer at the SADC Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Directorate told the Sunday Standard Business.
Crops in some areas are reported to have already reached permanent wilting point. The report notes that dry spell occurred when many crops were in the flowering stage, a time when yields can be significantly reduced by moisture stress.
In many of these areas, rainfall was less than 30 percent of average rainfall over the 3 week period of analysis from 12 February to 4 March 2013. Many of the affected areas have been experiencing dry conditions for longer periods, over 40 days in many cases.
The report warns that crop land, rangeland and pasture are likely to have been affected, particularly in those areas where the dryness stretches as far back as January, including areas that did not benefit from the heavy rains which fell in January in many other parts of the region.
The 2012 SADC production estimates said 31.47 million tonnes of cereal were produced, representing a 7 percent lower production than the 2011 harvest of 33.81 million tonnes.
While the SADC region experienced deficits in production in the previous harvest that contributed to soaring food prices, Chaura said the situation in the region is not as grim as it may seem compared with worldwide trends.
“The price rise in the SADC region has been lower and stable than the world prices of most staple foods partly due to improved overall food production, especially of maize in the region, probably combined with the better distribution infrastructure and cross-border trade,” said Chaura.
Last year there were cereal deficits in Angola of some 1.34 million tonnes, Mozambique experienced deficits of 1.86 million tonnes, South Africa of 1.41 million tonnes while Zimbabwe’s production went down by 1.46 million tonnes.
Only three countries, according to the Agromet report, recorded overall cereal surpluses, namely, Malawi (0.56 million tonnes), Tanzania (0.19 million tonnes) and Zambia (1.11 million tonnes).
Regional maize production has decreased by 4% from a revised 2011 harvest of 27.31 million tonnes to the current estimate of 26.10 million tonnes for the 2012 harvest.