Crop planting season maybe delayed by a month if there is no consistent rainfall. We were witnessing a repetition of the 2017/2018 season according to AgBiz Chief Agricultural Economist Wandile Sihlobo.
“We no longer get rainfall in the longer periods; it has shortened which meant there was a structural shift in rainfall patterns.”
The South African Weather Service (SAWIS) Seasonal Climate Watch October 2019 – February 2020 report forecasted a below normal rainfall along the south eastern parts of the country between Oct-Nov-December periods.
“It is important to note the heightened likelihood from international forecasts (mainly from global dynamical models) that seem to be very confident about typical El Niño rainfall conditions over Southern Africa during the entire summer period. This means there are opposite forecasts for most of the summer period, and this increases the uncertainty for the coming summer season.”
The South African Atlas of Agrohydrology and Climatology of the Water Research Commission (WRC) has for a number of years signalled this concern. The total value of commercial agricultural production depended on the annual average rainfall of 25 – 40%.
“The concerns of farmers go further, since they need to consider also how variable the rainfall is from year to year or for a given month and how frequently droughts of a certain level of severity are likely to recur” said agrohydrologist Emeritus Professor Roland Schultz of the University of KwaZulu Natal.
South Africa produced over 30% of the continent’s maize and fears are that if the current situation exacerbates it may affect agricultural product exports. For farmers, shifting planting seasons was a concern. Normally, crop planting season began from 15 October – 15 November. Once these timeline targets were missed, low yields would be expected potentially adding to food inflation.
Sihlobo said South Africa and its neighbouring countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi had to now confront the climate change debate and come to terms with the phenomenon as it was posing challenges for farmers all around.
“Countries that were reluctant to speak about breeding seeds, now it was a time to open the discussions” he said on an online platform.
SAWIS was aware of farmer fears but cautioned the sector not to blow the dry spell out of proportion. “Indications are that above-normal rainfall is more likely for the central and eastern parts, which are predicted to continue into mid-summer (Dec-Jan-Feb).”
Mpumalanga was already experiencing good rains with Limpopo expected to follow suite. SAWIS said it will continue monitoring the rainfall patterns and advise stakeholders accordingly.