At a time when there are rolling blackouts in South Africa, an even bigger problem lies ahead. El Niño, according to weather experts, known to bring long droughts all over the world, is approaching.
The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has confirmed that parts of the country will be experiencing extremely high temperatures that could lead to heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo has predicted worsening conditions for South African farmers due to the approaching longer period of El Niño during the summer months.
“As the deepening energy crisis continues to present problems for different parts of the agricultural sector, another major challenge that could confront South Africa’s agricultural sector in a few months is a change in weather conditions from favourable rains to drier and hot conditions. This would be a switch from a prolonged period of La Niña to El Niño,” said Sihlobo.
It’s been a good and wet past two years
The country has in the past two years experienced a prolonged season of La Niña, which brought heavy rainfall. The agricultural sector has benefitted massively from the rainy season, especially crop, and fruit and vegetable farmers. Livestock farmers have gained by getting better grazing pastures.
Scientists at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University are predicting that El Niño would occur later in the year.
“Such a weather phenomenon would bring below-normal rainfall and hotter temperatures in South Africa. If it is intense, this could resemble the bleak agricultural conditions we witnessed during the last El Niño drought in the 2015/16 season.”
During that period, staple crops such as maize dropped to 8,2 million tonnes, well below South Africa’s consumption levels of 11,8 million tonnes.
Farmers are advised to brace themselves for these harsh weather conditions of El Niño.
“Under a possible drought season, a large share of the country’s agriculture would be strained,” explained Sihlobo.
“In fruits and vegetables, however, a sizable area relies on irrigation. In the livestock sector, specifically dairy, irrigation is just as necessary. This shows that a possible drought would present major risks to food security.”
Interventions and contingency plans needed for blackouts
Because of El Niño, Sihlobo expressed that the burdens on South African farmers are likely to increase. This is while farmers deal with load shedding interruptions.
However, organised agriculture groups and the department of agriculture, land reform, and rural development are said to be working on near-term and long-term interventions to assist the sector.
Agbiz has been part of these high-level engagements.
According to Agbiz CEO Theo Boshoff, the severe load shedding has increased food security risks in South Africa. But while the risk is great, statements on food security should only be made from an evidence base.
“As such, Agbiz conducted a survey this past week across all the sectors and the results are currently being analysed by a joint team of experts. Insights will be shared as soon as possible,” Boshoff said.
“The survey will also be used to inform possible interventions that government and private sector representatives are formulating to ensure a sound approach. The results of the survey will help enrich the response approach for the sector.”
Agbiz is of the view that load shedding should not exceed stage two or three. Furthermore, contingency plans that allow greater predictability should outages be unavoidable must be developed.
This is so that companies may plan their operations around a more predictable schedule.
“The sector will also explore the path for renewables, and this might need government assistance, subsidies and revisions to the regulatory framework. These are all key points that Agbiz will continue to voice in endearment with the authorities,” Boshoff said.
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