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What Drought Means for Africa’s Crops, a Gro Forecast

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This summer has seen no letup in drought conditions in the Horn of Africa, and a forecast for another dry rainy season coming up threatens to exacerbate the region’s food insecurity. 

Gro Drought Index readings, aggregated for Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia using Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, are at their highest level in at least 20 years. The drought level has remained consistently high at the Index’s “severe” level since Gro wrote about the crisis in June. 

The drought, the longest in some 40 years, raises concerns about smaller harvests of principal grain crops, shortages of forage, and depleted water supplies for people and animals. Food imports — made more expensive by tight global supplies of many commodities and weakened local currencies — and emergency food aid will need to increase. 

Drought is affecting the area unevenly, as shown by this map display of the Gro Drought Index, and production of some countries’ crops will be affected more than others. For example, Ethiopia’s wheat crop, grown in areas with lower drought readings than the country overall, will be 23% larger at 6 million tonnes than the 10-year average, according to Gro’s recently launched Food Security Tracker for Africa. 

By contrast, production of Kenya corn, the country’s most commonly grown crop, will at 3.1 million tonnes be 12% below the historical average, the Food Security Tracker forecasts. Corn is also one of Somalia’s main cereal crops, but production of the grain has slumped over the past 20 years amid repeated droughts. For 2022/23, Somalia corn production of 88,000 tonnes will be similar to the 10-year historical average. 

Gro’s Food Security Tracker for Africa, built with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, is a first-of-its-kind interactive tool that leverages Gro’s platform and machine learning-based models to show both real-time data and projections for the supply, demand, and price of major crops for 49 African countries. The Food Security Tracker for Africa is available as a free and open public tool for the next year.

In addition to crop production estimates, the Food Security Tracker shows the rising cost of imports. Free on board prices for corn into Kenya, for instance, are up 17% from a year earlier. That higher price takes on added importance given that Kenya corn production for 2022/23 is estimated to be 17% below domestic consumption, according to the Food Security Tracker.

The Horn of Africa normally has two rainy seasons: the “short rains” of October-December and the “long rains” that run from March to May and sometimes longer. Precipitation during this year’s long-rain season was 31% below the 10-year average, aggregated for Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia using Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture. Now, the upcoming short-rain season will also see below-average rainfall, in part due to the return of La Niña for a third year in a row, according to the World Meteorological Organization. 

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