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Regional crop forecasts mixed

[Lesotho] Farmer Ntsane Moshoeshoe's crops, like many in Lesotho, have been badly affected by frost, heavy rains and drought. IRIN
Two consecutive poor harvests has led to food shortages
South Africa's exportable surplus maize should be enough to cover commercial shortfalls in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Mozambique, according to a briefing published by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). The latest Southern African Development Community (SADC) Food Security Network Ministerial Brief noted that "projected maize availability [in the region] has improved, mainly as a result of increased harvest expectations in South Africa, where total supply ... is now expected to reach 9.85 million mt". This meant South Africa would have an exportable surplus estimated at 1.93 million mt. "Although official forecasts are still to be released in most countries, preliminary assessments from Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe indicate significant improvements in production prospects. The major concern will be food access among the poor facing above-normal food prices," the brief noted. The 2003/04 agricultural season had been a "very challenging" one for Southern Africa, "with countries experiencing both drought and flood conditions within the same crop-growing season". "Overall, improved rainfall over the January to March period brought about a marked improvement in crop-growing conditions and was beneficial to the late-planted crop and, where applicable, a second season crop. Many countries are reporting a significant amount of late plantings, as a result of the late onset and erratic rainfall that necessitated multiple plantings. Higher prices, driven by weather worries, also encouraged second season cultivation," the brief added. However, after heavy downpours the "recent flooding along the banks of the main river systems, especially in Zambia and Namibia, have raised concerns that crop yields could be further reduced as some croplands have been washed away". Preliminary harvest forecasts were thus mixed. HARVEST FORECAST MIXED The Angolan ministry of agriculture estimated higher production at the start of the season, as a result of increased area planted by resettled internally displaced persons. "Production recovery prospects have, however, been dampened by excessive rains and floods, which have caused serious crop damage along the main river beds. Flood damage in Huambo will reduce maize yields by up to one-third in some zones," the brief said. In Botswana, "following normal to above-normal rains since January and generally improved crop growing conditions, the country, through its inter-ministerial Drought Assessment Tour, has assessed a total cereal harvest of 30,000 mt, which is 5 percent below last year's harvest of 32,000 mt, but is significantly higher (40 percent) than the 5-year average." Pasture for livestock was also much improved. The picture in Mozambique was generally positive, despite a poor start to the season. "The Early Warning Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development estimates that overall crop production will increase this year compared to last year, with cereal, pulse and tuber production all up by 6 to 6.5 percent. This optimism is largely as a result of the favourable rains received since January," the brief explained. Reports indicated that good rains earlier this year not only facilitated the recovery of some drought-resilient crops, such as cassava, sweet potatoes and cowpeas, but also allowed for new plantings of maize, rice and beans, which had been developing reasonably well due to continued favourable growing conditions. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Zimbabwe released the first crop production estimates for the 2003/04 season. "Maize production is forecast to increase by up to 30 percent over the 5-year average, to 1.7 million mt. Total cereal production (excluding winter wheat) is currently estimated at 1.93 million mt. The increase is largely as a result of an increase in area planted and optimistic yield estimates ranging between 1.1 mt/ha and 2 mt/ha. The Ministry's National Early Warning Unit is finalising results of its March 1 to 14 crop assessment tour. These results are expected to provide a check on the current estimates, which may be optimistic," the brief added. The government had requested a UN-led Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) crop and food assessment mission that would "also help verify and validate the estimates". In Malawi the first round of production estimates, released in mid-March, only covered the smallholder sector. "It is expected that the next round will include winter grain production and estimates from the estate sector. Smallholder cereal production (maize, rice, wheat, sorghum and millet) is currently estimated at 1.7 million mt. These estimates reflect a drop (4 percent) only in maize production when compared to last year. Other cereal crops, cassava and sweet potatoes are forecast to have increased marginally by between 1 percent (sweet potatoes) and 9 percent (cassava) over production last year. An FAO/WFP crop and food assessment mission is scheduled for April/May, and their report may benefit from the results of the second round of crop forecasts," the SADC brief added. In Zambia the rainfall season was coming to an end and crop conditions over much of the country remained fair to good, "except in the valley areas of the Upper Zambezi basin and Luangwa Valley, where excessive rains and floods have washed away the crops planted in the low-lying areas". The brief cautioned that "crop production levels are still expected to remain at levels similar to those achieved last year, when total cereal production was estimated at 1.4 million mt. There is growing concern, however, that further delays in conducting the crop forecasting survey may jeopardise contingency planning efforts for the ensuing marketing season. Due to the favourable prospects, no independent food and crop assessment is foreseen for Zambia; therefore the government survey will be the only source of crop estimates." In Namibia the national Early Warning Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development released its first crop forecast, which indicated a much improved cereal harvest of 155,100 mt - 54 percent above last year's level and 56 percent above the recent five-year average. "These estimates, however, assume a continuation of the favourable rainfall pattern that has been observed over much of the growing season," the SADC brief explained. A snapshot assessment was conducted in Lesotho in late February by FAO, WFP and the Ministry of Agriculture. It indicated a severe reduction in crop yields, with total production estimated at 40,620 mt - a 54 percent drop compared to last year's FAO/WFP estimate of 89,100 mt. The report cautions, however, that February is too early in the season to accurately predict the outcome of the harvest. Swaziland's National Early Warning Unit predicted an end-of-season maize harvest of 83,269 mt. "This forecast contrasts quite significantly with the results of a February joint Ministry of Agriculture and FAO/WFP rapid assessment that forecast maize production at 70,300 mt - a 3 percent drop compared with the June 2003 FAO/WFP estimate of 72,600 mt. Current forecasts will be validated by the upcoming FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission that is scheduled for early May," the report said. In South Africa, maize, wheat and sorghum production was estimated at 9.38 million mt - 18 percent below last year's level of 11.47 million mt, and 17 percent below the five-year average.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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