The northeast of South Africa will likely receive above-normal summer rains through March 2024, raising hopes for better than forecast agriculture output despite threats of El Niño-induced weather conditions, according to a farm-industry body.
Latest data from the South African Weather Service, which previously forecast dry conditions in early 2024, now indicates above-normal rainfall from November through March in the northeast — the nation’s main grain-growing region — and below-normal rainfall for the central and south-western parts.
The rains are expected to cover the critical pollination stages of the summer crop when moisture is most needed, leading to better yields, said Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa.
Better rains could help cool food inflation that’s been a key contributor to overall price growth remaining above the midpoint of the central bank’s 3% to 6% target range where it prefers to anchor expectations, easing pressure on it to keep interest rates higher for longer.
Governor Lesetja Kganyago said earlier this month that the bank wouldn’t hesitate to do what’s needed to preserve price stability should risks to its inflation outlook materialize, such as those from El Niño.
In its six-monthly Monetary Policy Review published last month, the central bank said its models show severe drought conditions caused by El Niño could add 3 to 8 percentage points to headline inflation.
More positive weather prospects will likely lead to farmers expanding their planting areas, Sihlobo said.
Growers plan to plant 2% more — or as much as 4.47 million hectares (11 million acres) of summer grains, including corn and oilseeds — during the 2023-24 season, compared with the prior year, according to forecasts by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development’s Crop Estimates Committee.