SOUTH AFRICA – The agricultural conditions in South Africa could seriously be affected by the unusually high rainfall patterns expected over the western and southwestern parts of the country and the adjacent Atlantic Ocean until November. 

A long-term forecast by Johan van den Berg, an independent agricultural meteorologist based in South Africa, reveals that Southern Africa, including Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and the southern parts of Mozambique, has a 60% to 80% chance of above-average rainfall from September to November 2023.

“It is also interesting that the strongest tendency for above-average rainfall is concentrated over the southern and southeastern parts of South Africa, where most of the rainfall is currently occurring,” says Van den Berg. “What is happening now is typical when an El Niño system rapidly develops in late winter and spring.”

He states in the report that it is likely that there will be further rain, especially in October. Cold fronts will also continue to affect the southern parts of the country, bringing in cold air from polar regions.

The tropical moisture moving southwest over Namibia and Botswana, according to Van den Berg, caused the extremely stormy conditions from September 23 to 25 when the cold air and warm, moist air from the north converged.

“It appears that the upper layers of the atmosphere are still conducive to the formation of cut-off low-pressure systems, resulting in extremely strong winds, hail, and rainfall,” he explained.

This situation is expected to change from November or December when South Africa is anticipated to be more influenced by robust high-pressure systems that can inhibit the development of rainfall.

El Niño is the warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. It influences atmospheric circulation and, consequently, affects rainfall and temperature in specific areas around the world.

As the El Niño cycle looms in South Africa, agricultural economists warn that if it is intense, it could have a significant impact on agricultural conditions.

Wandile Sihlobo, the chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA (Agbiz), stated that South Africa experienced four seasons of cooling La Niña-induced heavy rains from 2019/20 to 2022/23. These rains supported agriculture and resulted in higher yields for various field crops, fruits, and vegetables.

However, if the El Niño is intense, Sihlobo warned that this could resemble the bleak agricultural conditions witnessed during the last El Niño drought in the 2015/16 season (prior to the Day Zero scenario in Cape Town), when crop yields dropped significantly.

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