Persistent drought threatens South Africa's food supplies

Persistent drought threatens South Africa's food supplies

Record high temperatures were recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa on January 7, 2016. The region has been facing persistent drought conditions and related food shortage since December 2015 when the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued an alert on the matter.

Johannesburg, Africa's largest maize producer, has been hit by several heatwaves during last year. A record breaking temperature of 38 °C (100.4 °F) was reported on January 6. The previous temperature record of 36.5 °C (97.7 °F) in the area was reported in November 2015, according to the South African Weather Service.

A new high-temperature record of 42.5 °C (108.5 °F) replaced an old one of 41 °C (105.8 °F) in the capital of Pretoria.

The latest heatwave in South Africa has been forecast to last until January 8. The drought conditions are regarded as the worst in the last 30 years, and will likely force the country to import 5 million tones of maize in 2016, which is capable of meeting only half of the region's requirements, according to the country's largest producer group.

The drought is thought to be enhanced by the strong El Niño weather phenomenon: "The presence of a strong El Nino episode in 2015/16 raises serious concerns regarding the impact on food insecurity," the FAO stated in the alert, issued on December 22, 2015.

Drought conditions in the last season have also made a significant impact of the regional harvest, according to FAO: "In 2015 maize production, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the total cereal output, declined by 27 percent on account of adverse weather."

"The steep contraction has resulted in a tight supply situation in the 2015/16 marketing year (generally May/April) and raised import requirements for most countries."

In December 2015, the South African Weather Service announced the higher than usual temperatures trend and below average rainfall levels will continue into the autumn season in May 2016.

Featured image: Calvinia, South Africa, April 16, 2008. Image credit: South African Tourism (Flickr-CC)

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