Poor rainfall may signal drought for 2023

Food prices threaten food security
The onset of the rainy season was delayed, with rainfall only recorded in December.
Ellanie Smit
Ellanie Smit

Rainfall performance has declined since February, contrary to seasonal rainfall projections, signalling risk of drought in 2023.

According to Agribank’s monthly Market Watch, poor rainfall performance and food prices threaten food security, particularly for the most vulnerable households.

Food prices remain elevated one year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it said.

“This has affected agricultural commodity markets, which reached peak levels at the end of 2022. Russia being one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and other crucial crops, entering a second year of war, many ­vulnerable countries still face heightened food insecurity. Countries that rely on food imports are ­particularly at risk.”

Agribank said the seasonal climate outlook for 2022/2023 indicated normal to above-normal rainfall for most parts of the country, giving hope to farmers in the agriculture sector at large. Namibia’s rainfall season lasts from October to April.

The onset of rainfall was, however, delayed as it only started in Decem­ber, with heavy rains received in January across most parts of the country, it said.

Poor rainfall performanceThe Kunene, Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Kavango West, Kavango East and Zambezi regions received above-normal rainfall, while most parts of ||Kharas, Hardap, Erongo, western Kunene and eastern Omaheke received ­below-average rainfall in January.

Poor rainfall performance in ­February was recorded in most parts of the country, with few exceptions.

During this time, low to no rainfall was observed over Kunene, Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena, ­Oshikoto, Khomas, Omaheke, Erongo, Hardap and ||Kharas.

“Cumulative rains between the period from October 2022 to February 2023 indicate below-normal rainfall across most parts of the country.

“This is mainly due to long dry spells experienced, reflecting a departure from the seasonal outlook.”

According to Agribank, this ­suggests that normal to above-normal rainfall projections may not hold for the ­remainder of the rainy season (March to April).

“Given the rainfall performance since the beginning of the season, the country faces a risk of low water supply and poor pasture conditions.”

Major concernsThis represents a key risk to the agriculture sector, rangeland recovery and livestock production, it said.

Furthermore, delayed ­planting in areas where crop production is largely under rainfed and dry ­conditions are major concerns, nega­tively impacting crop yields and ­threatening food security.

“Farmers are advised to strengthen efforts in building climate ­resilience for farming activities to reduce income losses from a potential drought.”

Agribank added that the SADC food security early warning system report for January indicated that ­vegetation conditions in Namibia and southern Angola are well below average, which is consistent with the rainfall performance.

“Cattle production in some parts of Namibia will be adversely affected by the poor rangeland conditions due to uneven distribution of rainfall.”

Considering harsh conditions, coupled with the global crisis, farmers are urged to introduce innovative ways of coping with drought to avoid further losses, it said.

Govt supportMeanwhile, Agribank said government support is required in terms of proactive risk transfer instruments, market access and the drought relief programme.

“The blended concerns of erratic rainfall and rising food inflation could worsen consumer affordability. The Namibia Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report stated that the food-security situation is projected to worsen between January and March, corresponding to the last and second half of Namibia’s lean season, with 390 000 people forecasted to experience high levels of acute food insecurity.”

The Kavango East, Kavango West, Kunene, Omaheke, Oshikoto and Otjozondjupa regions have the ­majority of people in food crisis.

“Clearly, the agriculture sector is not out of the woods yet and is faced with enormous headwinds. With the ongoing floods, contingency action plans for areas affected by poor rainfall performance, cyclones and flooding should be put in place by government and other interested entities. Farmers and potential off-takers are encouraged to start preparing for post-harvest care and marketing of crops to realise maximum benefit from the 2023 harvest,” Agribank said. 

– ellanie@namibiansun.com