By Sharon Atieno

With planting activities being disrupted due to delayed rainfall and prolonged dry conditions across the Eastern Africa region, crop production shortfalls are expected.

In Kenya, the season update report released by IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) notes that poor rainfall pattern in the high potential cropping areas of the southwestern “maize basket”, seriously disrupted and delayed planting operations.

“As the “long-rains” season normally extends until August in these areas, with rainfall forecasts pointing to below-average rains in April followed by improved precipitations for the remainder of the rains season, a near-average harvest, albeit delayed, is still possible,” the report says.

In the south eastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas, where seasonal rains normally subside in early June and rains being predicted to be below- average in April, a reduced crop output is very probable.

Substantial cereal crop production shortfalls are also expected in Uganda, southern bimodal areas of South Sudan and some north eastern bimodal areas of Tanzania due to delayed rains and dry conditions in March which seriously affected planting and establishment of first season crops as well as possibility of poor rains in April.

In South Sudan, the report notes that the prolonged conflict continues to constrain access to fields with the economic crisis resulting in soaring prices of inputs.

According to the ICPAC report, in central and southern areas of the United Republic of Tanzania, where “msimu” crops will be harvested in May, rains in March were up to 60 percent below average, but the rainfall deficits did not have a major impact on vegetation conditions, as rainfall in previous months have been adequate. However, in central Tabora and Singida provinces, where rains in February were also below-average, crops are currently affected by moisture stress.

In Somalia, there is delay of onset rains in March and dry conditions already present are likely to continue.

In Ethiopia, the report notes that abundant early season rains benefited planting and germination of crops in northern “belg” receiving areas of eastern Oromia and Southern Tigray, while in parts of the State of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ (SNNP) region and in Eastern Oromia rains in February and March were 35-75 percent below average, with a negative impact on sowing activities and vegetation conditions.

“In the Sudan, prospects for the irrigated winter wheat crop are favourable,” the report reads. “However, reduced availability of fuel and currency shortages, affecting ability to pay hired labour, are hindering agricultural operations, and the harvest, normally completed in March, will be delayed by at least one month.”

Looking at the regional grain markets and trade, the report notes that prices were lower compared to 2018 with prices in Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda remaining stable in the first three months of the year whereas, in Uganda there was significant increase in prices in the first quarter.

In Kenya, prices of maize increased slightly due to the expected poor March to April rains season however, stocks are ample from 2018 long rains season. Moreover, there was a notable decline for grains’ imports from Uganda and Tanzania due to ample stocks, but the report cautions that hoarding by farmers and traders will impact market supply.

While in Rwanda and Burundi, the recently gathered harvest eased pressure on demand for grains staples, in Uganda, prices increased significantly as a result of low supply. The poor weather conditions in Uganda led to below average second season output resulting in price gains in the fourth quarter of 2018 and the better part of the first quarter of 2019.

“Therefore, price gains in the fourth quarter and the better part of the first quarter of 2019 were not adequately mitigated with the low stocks realized. An upward trend in prices is expected to persist heading into the lean period (April to June),” the report notes.

In South Sudan, despite the poor macro-economic situation leaving prices elevated in most markets, the main season harvest was completed in January thus prices decreased for some grain staples. The report further notes that imports from Uganda are expected to meet demand gap due to low domestic production. However, the poor seasonal outlook for the first season in Uganda poses a challenge as it may affect supply not only to South Sudan but also other deficit producer countries in the region.