FAO warns of maize shortfall across Southern Africa

Southern Africa faces a risk of rising prices and import needs of cereals, especially for maize, after recent weather trends associated with El Niño hit harvest prospects in the subregion.

The prospect of cereal production has taken a sharp turn for the worse since last Feb and is expected to intensify households’ food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Wednesday in its latest report.

The foreseen shortfall could drive domestic prices up and spur a surge in import needs, especially Maize, per the assessment from FAO’s Early Warning System.

Maize accounts for almost 20% of calories consumed in the Southern Africa region

The forecast comes after “widespread and substantial rainfall deficits in February, exacerbated by record high temperatures, a particularly damaging combination for crops,” the report said.

The report has noted that there are scant hopes of a recovery before the harvest period commences in May.

Acute food insecurity in southern Africa, estimated at 16 million people in the first three months of 2024, could deteriorate in late 2024, FAO warned.

Food prices, already rising at annual rates above 10 percent, are likely to rise further.

Based on current projections, South Africa and Zambia, typically maize exporters, will not be able to cover the supply shortfall, and Zambia has started importing maize to meet the shortfall.

Plan ahead for shift to La Niña

This observed pattern is typical of the El Niño weather phenomenon in the region, FAO noted.

Current forecasts however point a high likelihood of a transition to a La Niña phase later in the year, with more beneficial precipitation patterns.

That makes it “imperative” to scale up resilience-bolstering measures enabling farmers to prepare adequately for the next agricultural season starting in September 2024, FAO said.