The effects of El Nino cannot be over-emphasised. REMMY NWEKE writes that Africa must be proactive in managing the situation.
A new concern may be worrying experts in the agriculture industry in the name of El Nino drought, especially in Ethiopia, otherwise known as horn of Africa. For many observers in the development world, this is coming at a time the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been invigorated.
What is El Nino
El Nino is an irregularly occurring and complex series of climatic changes affecting the equatorial Pacific region and beyond every few years, characterized by the appearance of unusually warm, nutrient-poor water off northern Peru and Ecuador, typically in late December.
But investigations revealed that el Nino has since gone beyond the northern Peru and Ecuador to other part of the world including the United States as Southern California was reported recently to have a high-pressure mass in order to keep brunt of El Nino away.
During an El Nino, the physical relationships between wind, ocean currents, temperature, and biosphere break down into destructive patterns, says Dr. John Kermond, the Communications Director for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The United States-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) through its earth observatory department sees El Nino as a climate change that occurs every three to seven years during the months of December and January, culminating in fish in the coastal waters off of these countries virtually vanishing and causing the fishing business to come to a standstill.
South American fishermen, according to David Herring, one of the earth observatory experts, have given this phenomenon the name El Niño, which is Spanish for "the Boy Child," because it comes about the time of the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. He explained that during an El Niño, the physical relationships between wind, ocean currents, oceanic and atmospheric temperature, and biosphere break down into destructive patterns that are second only to the march of the seasons in their impacts to weather conditions around the world.
Cushioning El Nino in Africa:
It was this concern that got the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) worried by the amount of drought witnessed at the end of 2015 and cross over to 2016; voted the sum of $50m for emergency in the drought-ridden Ethiopia, although this drought is not limited in Ethiopia alone, just as the droughts were attributed to the strongest El Niño weather episode in the last several decades, which has caused repeated crop failure, decimated livestock herds and driven some 10.2 million people across Ethiopia into food insecurity.
FAO also disclosed in its emergency response plan to urgently protect livestock and rebuild crop production in the Horn of Africa nation. According to the FAO Representative for Ethiopia, Mr. Amadou Allahoury, the outlook for 2016 is very grim, stressing that after two consecutive seasons of failed crops, the success of the main cropping season that starts now will be critical to preventing conditions from worsening.
The continued drought throughout the beginning of 2016, he said means pasture will become even more scarce which will negatively impact livestock keepers that rely on those grazing lands and water points for their food security. Asserting that overall, food will become harder to access if the drought continues and prices rise, food stocks deplete and livestock become weaker, less productive, and perish.
The El Niño phenomenon is associated with the abnormal warming of sea surface temperature in parts of the Pacific Ocean that has severe effects on global weather and climate patterns - leading to reduced rainfall and drought in some regions and heavy rains and flooding in others. Under the current El Niño, crop production in Ethiopia has dropped by 50 to 90 per cent in some regions and failed completely in the east. The drought resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of livestock.
El Nino in Africa:
Of course, the African continent is not immune to El Niño as it has lowered crop prospects in southern Africa countries and many countries in the region are taking measures. South Africa has already declared drought status for five provinces, its main cereal producing regions, while Lesotho has issued a drought mitigation plan and Swaziland has implemented water restrictions as reservoir levels have become low.
FAO, thus is implementing response plans in 20 high-priority countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the South Pacific, including Ethiopia. Another 21 countries are being monitored closely.
What the emergency plan portends:
NaijaAgroNet gathered that FAO in its emergency response plan made budget for an estimated to 360,000 households, that is some 1.8 million people, as some households to receive assistance under more than one activity.In addition, FAO says there is plan to reduce the food gap and enhance nutrition through support to agricultural production through emergency seed distribution to affected areas for the meher season, quality drought resilient seed production at community level, reduce risk of malnutrition through backyard vegetable production initiatives.
FAO equally plans to offer rapid response for irrigated food production at household level, safeguard livestock-based livelihoods, provision of cash to destock already weak animal through slaughter, protection of core breeding animals through survival feed provision, voucher-based supplementary feed support, increase fodder production at community level, support to animal health interventions and vector control, restore livelihoods through restocking with small ruminants, enhance resilience of households’ affected by El Niño.
Whereas they intend to work towards adoption of the approach for better mitigation of future crises, cash-for-work initiatives to improve critical infrastructure for water access, coordination for efficient and effective response, and coordination of overall response.
According to the FAO latest assessments, access to pasture and water will continue to deteriorate until the start of the next rainy season in March. As a result, experts anticipate that livestock will become leaner, sicker and produce less milk and many more will die.
Crop reserves are severely depleted, leaving farmers vulnerable without means of production for the upcoming planting season that starts in January -- in many cases, farmers lost valuable seeds through recurrent crop failures, planting time and time again in the hopes of rains that never came.
As a result, malnutrition rates have soared and the number of admissions for severe acute malnutrition among children is now the highest ever reported.
The new FAO response plan aims to assist 1.8 million farmers and livestock keepers in 2016 to reduce food gaps and restore agricultural production and incomes.
The first critical phase of the $50 million will focus on the meher season between January and June.
FAO plans to help 131 500 households plant with a focus on the meher season. This intervention will include a mix of emergency seed distribution, small-scale irrigation projects, and backyard gardening initiatives targeted at empowering women's groups with tools, knowledge and access to micro loans.
As the current drought has not only affected smallholder farmers but also seed producers, it has aggravated already existing seed shortages across the country and made it even harder for farmers to plant. For this reason, FAO is also supporting 10 000 seed producers to produce high-quality seeds and get the local market for seeds back on its feet.
Another 293 000 households will benefit from livestock interventions, such as the distribution of emergency animal feed, vaccination drives to protect some 3 million animals against disease, and restocking of 100 000 goats and sheep to vulnerable households.
As many animals have been severely weakened by lack of food and water, FAO will also implement a cash-for-livestock exchange that will reimburse farmers for bringing unproductive livestock to slaughter and support community feed production.
A third leg of the response plan will focus on strengthening livelihoods of more than 30 000 households and build their resilience to future shocks. This will include cash-for-work programs that will boost families' incomes and improve critical local infrastructure and water access for livestock. This part of the plan will also target farmers' and women's groups through integrated community projects that support community savings-and-loan schemes, farmer field schools and other methods to help families accumulate and diversify assets.
By focusing specifically on rebuilding the productive capacity of farming and pastoralist families, FAO is supporting ongoing efforts by the Government of Ethiopia, other UN agencies and NGO partners that are tending to the immediate needs of at-risk families.
"In Ethiopia, El Niño is not just a food crisis -- it's above all a livelihood crisis. And we need to intervene now to protect and rebuild these livelihoods and people's capacity to produce, to prevent families from becoming long-term dependent on food aid," said Dominique Burgeon, Leader of FAO's Strategic Programme on Resilience and Director of FAO's Emergencies and Rehabilitation Division.
FAO's appeal for $50 million to protect Ethiopian livelihoods comes at a time when international donor funds are stretched thin in light of a multitude of major human-induced crises.
But intervention to secure farming livelihoods now is the best way to help the country bounce back and prevent a further slide into chronic food insecurity, according to Burgeon.
"If response is delayed, recovery will be difficult and the cost of interventions will only increase," he stressed.
Between FAO and El Niño
Agriculture is one of the main sectors of the economy that could be severely affected by the El Niño phenomenon. While drought is the main threat to food production, El Niño can also cause heavy rains, flooding or extremely hot or cold weather. This can lead to animal disease outbreaks, including zoonosis and food-borne diseases, as well as plant pests and forest fires.
Previously El Niño events have been lined up to create more awareness and share knowledge, therefore, people whose livelihoods depend on fisheries have been heavily affected in certain areas.
With climatologists predicting that the 2015-16 El Niño event could become one of the strongest on record, FAO is moving forward with specific plans for early interventions under its Early Warning - Early Action System.
As at the time of filing this report, 14 countries on the continent of Africa, the South Pacific, Asia and Central America are being specifically targeted due to their increased risk to extreme weather and a subsequent negative effect on vulnerable people. Another 19 countries are classified as facing moderate risk, of, which their future status will be proclaimed by FAO.
Whilst waiting for the future of Africa and El Nino, the continent has to take cautionary steps to ensure, first of all that El Nino does not expand beyond its current state in order to be contained in and within the proposed FAO lifeline in this regard, in which line the African Union (AU) via its CAADP initiative.