Source: Wandile Sihlobo and Tinashe Kapuya, Business Maverick, 24 August 2020, photo credit: Pixabay/Environment + Energy Leader
Climate and pandemic risks could weigh on agricultural output and farm profitability in the 2020/21 season, and in turn, the livelihoods of those who are directly and indirectly dependent on the sector.
The reports of a potential La Niña event during the coming summer months presents mixed fortunes for Southern and East Africa’s agriculture. For parts of East Africa, the La Niña weather event typically correlates with below-average rainfall in the months between December and February, while Southern Africa experiences wetter conditions over the same period.
What makes this concerning for East Africa is that this is a period just before the start of the summer grains planting, which occurs in February each year. Therefore, a La Niña event would raise the risk of yet another poor agricultural harvest for countries in this region.
In the 2019/20 season, major grain producing and consuming countries in East Africa, especially Kenya and Ethiopia, had mixed fortunes. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated Kenya’s 2019/20 maize production at 3.4 million tonnes, down by 11% year on year on the back of unfavourable weather conditions at the start of the season.
With Kenya’s annual maize consumption at about 4.8 million tonnes, it implies that the country could require imports of about 1.4 million tonnes within the 2020/21 marketing year, which is still underway. This was a second consecutive season of large maize imports, as the previous season’s imports amounted to 900 000 tonnes. The prospects of a La Niña event means that Kenya could remain a net importer of maize for a third consecutive year.