El Niño event declared: Impacts on the Limpopo river basin in Southern Africa

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The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) calls on policymakers and research-for-development organizations to take action to mitigate the possible impacts of the current developing El Niño event on small-scale farmers and rural communities and to keep tracking seasonal climate fluctuations. Multiple climate prediction centers have concurred that this El Niño event will reach a “strong” category in the Northern Hemisphere by the winter of 2023-24.

El Niño events are characterized by sustained increases in sea surface temperatures over the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, due to weakened trade winds from the west, resulting in the accumulation of abnormally warm waters. The climate effects of this typically include reduced rainfall, higher temperatures, and shifts in temperature extremes. The current El Niño event is predicted to reach its peak between November 2023 and February 2024, according to seasonal predictions of sea surface temperature anomalies.

The Limpopo River basin in southern Africa is anticipated to experience lower rainfall and higher-than-average temperatures during June to November 2023. Although the forecast fluctuations are generally low during this period, there are concerns about a negative impact on rainfall in the Limpopo Basin, particularly in November, which marks the beginning of the rainy season. The lower-than-average rainfall could potentially delay planting dates for crops like maize in 2023, leading to decreased yields due to heat and water stress later in the 2023/24 season.

Furthermore, the forecast indicates that mean temperatures in the Limpopo Basin are expected to be above average from June to November 2023. High temperatures accompanied by rainfall deficits in November could exacerbate water deficits and environmental stress for maize seedlings.

Given the evolving El Niño event and upcoming forecasts, it is crucial to monitor stress conditions in the coming months. IWMI and CIMMYT recommend that governments, research organizations, and farm support agencies taking proactive measures to mitigate the potential impacts on the Limpopo Basin. This includes considering the use of maize cultivars tolerant to water and thermal stress, as well as promoting management practices to retain soil moisture and increase water use efficiency.

CIMMYT encourage stakeholders in the Limpopo River Basin to stay informed about the evolving El Niño event and its potential implications. It is vital to prioritize sustainable and inclusive solutions that can help mitigate the adverse effects of climate variability and ensure the resilience of agricultural systems.

This project is a key activity under the CGIAR Digital Innovation Initiative, which researches pathways to accelerate the transformation towards sustainable and inclusive agrifood systems by generating research-based evidence and innovative digital solutions. We thank all funders who supported this research through their contributions to CGIAR Trust Fund.

For more information on the source of the media release, click here to read the “El Niño impacts in the Limpopo River Basin” Brief prepared by: Carlo Montes, agricultural climatologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

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