South Africa has had four seasons of La Niña induced heavy rains from 2019/20 to 2022/23. These above-normal rains supported agriculture leading to higher yields across various field crops, fruits and vegetables. The livestock industry also benefitted from improved grazing pasture.

Importantly, having four consecutive La Niña seasons was an unusual occurrence. The typical cycles are two seasons of higher rainfall followed by normal-drier seasons.

Excluding the current trend, the only other period in the recent past with three successive years of conducive weather conditions and a large crop harvest ran through 2007/08, 2008/09, and 2009/10 production seasons. This period brought a sizeable agricultural yield to the country.

But there is now a shift from a prolonged period of La Niña to El Niño. This weather phenomenon would bring below-normal rainfall and hotter temperatures in South Africa (and across Southern Africa).

If it is intense, this could resemble the bleak agricultural conditions we witnessed during the last El Niño drought in the 2015/16 season, where staple crops such as maize dropped to 8,2 million tonnes, well below South Africa’s consumption levels of 11,8 million tonnes.

This shortfall necessitated imports of maize to supplement domestic needs. Other field crops, fruits, vegetables and livestock also experienced severe losses.

But I doubt things will be this bad. Also, the soil moisture remains reasonably favourable across South Africa following good rains, which should cushion farmers. Thus, I remain optimistic that the 2023/24 agricultural season in South Africa should be okay, although crop yields could drop considerably from the levels of the past few years.

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