• Late rains, extended dry periods, two major cyclones and economic challenges have proved a recipe for disaster for food security and livelihoods across Southern Africa.
• Currently, 9.3 million people are severely food insecure in the nine most affected countries – a figure that could rise to over 12 million at the peak of the lean season (October 2019–March 2020) without immediate intervention.
• The severe impact of the 2018/19 drought on affected households and communities is such that two to three production seasons will be required for normal production capacity to be restored.
Climatic shocks and stressors put livelihoods and food security at risk across Southern Africa
The devastating drought in Southern Africa has seriously eroded the capacity of affected farming households and communities to produce in the 2019/20 season, which has already started in some countries. There is urgent need to scale up systematic recovery support and invest in resilience building initiatives to address the root causes of rising needs in the region. Without this, food security and nutrition gains made over the past years could rapidly be reversed, requiring even more costly humanitarian actions in the years to come. In the 2018/2019 agricultural season, countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe saw their lowest rainfall for nearly 40 years and declared national drought emergencies. Since 2012, the region has only seen two favourable agriculture seasons, with many areas yet to fully recover from the devastating impact of the 2015/16 El Niño event.
Poor harvests due to drought and plant pests and diseases led to production deficits throughout the region. The first half of 2019 also saw tumultuous weather patterns, with the situation taking a dramatic turn for the worse when tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth made landfall in the Comoros, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, affecting more than 3.5 million people and destroying swaths of crops just before the main harvest. The greatest deficits were seen in Botswana and Namibia, with outputs estimated to have fallen by 50 percent on a yearly basis, and Zimbabwe where the maize harvest was around 40 percent lower than the five-year average. Cereal production is estimated to be about 7 percent below 2018 levels, which were already below the five year regional average. Livestock have also been impacted by limited water availability and increases in transboundary animal diseases, particularly foot and mouth disease.
Based on forecasts, the 2019/20 season is expected to receive good rains for the bulk of Southern Africa, offering opportunities for good production and restoring agriculture-based livelihoods. Despite this, in some areas pan baked soils will increase rainfall water runoff. Localized flash floods that could affect crops and livestock can therefore be anticipated.