Poor rainfall over vast tracts of southern Africa has delayed crop plantings and prompted a presidential call for prayer, with drought conditions threatening the 2022 harvest and stoking risks of higher food inflation.
Precipitation through mid-December has been significantly below average across Madagascar, Malawi, central and northern Mozambique, and northwestern Zimbabwe, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a U.S. government-backed organization that tracks food insecurity. Farmers in Zambia have also been hit. Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has called for a week of prayers for rain.
“Across these areas, drought conditions are ongoing to start the season,” Fews Net said in a statement on its website Friday. “Land preparation activities are delayed, and planting has yet to begin across many areas as of November.”
If rains don’t come before the planting window closes, next year’s harvests will be smaller with a knock-on effect on food prices. Most farmers in the region grow white corn that’s ground and mixed with water to make a porridge that serves as the staple food. The planting season normally starts in November for much of the region, with harvesting complete around April.
Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia already have double-digit inflation rates and the latter two’s central banks hiked their key interest rates in the final quarter of this year to tame price-growth. Although regional corn stock levels remain above average, monthly prices were rising and above average, according to Fews Net. Weaker domestic currencies and surging global corn prices have already hurt import-dependent countries, it said.
The potential crisis is developing two years into a coronavirus pandemic that’s led to a spike in hunger around the world and as food prices climbed closer to a record high. A United Nations gauge of global food prices rose 1.2% last month.
Bumper 2021 harvests in nations including Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa could help alleviate food-supply pressures.
South Africa, which has the region’s largest economy and is its biggest corn producer, has so far had above-average rainfall thanks to the La Nina weather phenomenon.
Still, there are risks to crop yields in excessively wet areas of the country, where planting and fertilizer spraying have been delayed, according to Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa.
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