Geographies in Depth

How will El Nino affect Africa’s farmers?

Chris Arsenault
Writer, The Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Farmers in Africa and East Asia are expected to suffer crop losses as extreme weather linked to the El Nino phenomenon alters rainfall patterns, scientists told a conference on climate change in Bonn on Wednesday.

The rainy season has been delayed in several African nations, and it is difficult to predict exactly how large the crop losses will be, said Sonja Vermeulen, a University of Copenhagen scientist.

“Peanut farmers in Gambia, for example, have already been hit this year,” Vermeulen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Bonn, where the conference took place.

Substantial losses of bean, potato and maize crops are expected in parts of Kenya, said James Kinyangi, senior adviser to the research group Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

El Nino is also creating the “perfect conditions” for an outbreak of rust or other plant diseases in some wheat-growing areas of East Africa, Kinyangi said by email.

Parts of China, Indonesia and India are also expected to be seriously affected by El Nino this year, Oscar Rojas, a senior official at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Monday.

“We are monitoring for extreme droughts,” Rojas said, adding that it is not yet possible to estimate potential crop losses.

The El Nino phenomenon is based on Pacific Ocean waters becoming unusually warm, and altering global weather patterns. The last El Nino happened in 2009-2010, and it usually lasts about one year.

Global warming can intensify changes created by El Nino, further destabilising farming plans, Vermeulen said.

El Nino is expected to appear more often as the planet warms, increasing crop losses in the future, Rojas said.

The Bonn climate change talks will be followed by a major U.N. meeting at the end of the year in Paris, aimed at reaching a new international agreement on ways to combat global warming.

If left unchecked, the rise in temperatures due to human activity is expected to reduce Africa’s maize and bean production by up to 40 percent by 2050, according to CCAFS scientists.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Chris Arsenault covers global food security and agricultural politics for the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Rome.

Image: A farmer holds organic coffee beans at a coffee field in the mountains of Peru’s central jungle city of Chanchamayo August 11, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil.

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