By Edward Vamboi
Following a timely onset of the seasonal rains in late March, planting operations for paddy rice, the major cereal grown in the country, are ongoing mostly in the south and some part of the east upland and riverine areas. In the most northern and northwestern areas of the country, land preparation activities are presently underway, for the planting to take place during May. The harvests are expected to start in September.
Since the beginning of the season, adequate rainfall amounts supported soil moisture content for crop development. In most planted areas, crops are at sprouting, seedling and tillering stages, and weeding activities are regularly underway.
However, the latest Forum of the Agro-Hydro-Climatic Seasonal Forecast in Sudano-Sahelian Africa (PRESASS) points to below-average rainfall amounts during the July-September period, with a likely negative impact on crop yields and availability of pasture and water for livestock.
During the dry season in early 2020, there was a scarcity of pasture and fodder for livestock. Rains usually contribute to the recovery of pasture conditions and, in May 2020, forage availability is satisfactory in the main grazing areas of the country, allowing animals to maintain good body conditions and enhance their market value. The animal health capacity is very weak and mostly dependent on partners’ support to prevent seasonal outbreaks including Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) in sheep and goats, Foot and Mouth (FMD) in cattle and Newcastle in poultry.
Despite the excess rainfall, which caused some flooding in July-August, the 2019 national cereal production is estimated at an average level of 1.3 million tonnes.
Import requirements for the 2019/20 marketing year (November/October) are forecast at an above-average level of 425 000 tonnes as local traders are aiming to replenish their stocks.
Markets are well supplied with both local and imported commodities across the country. However, field reports indicate that prices of staple food continued to increase in early 2020 due to some macro-economic factors including the high inflation rate, the liberalization of the exchange rate and the weakening of the local currency. According to Trading Economics, the year-on-year food inflation increased to 8.30 percent in February 2020. The large trade deficits are maintaining a downward pressure on the exchange rate, which weakened from SLL 8 900 per USD in early 2019 to about SLL 9 600 per USD in early 2020.
According to the March 2020 “Cadre Harmonisé” analysis, about 1 million people are estimated to need food assistance from March to May 2020. This number is expected to increase to 1.3 million during the lean period from June to August 2020, if no mitigation actions are taken.
In view of the evolving COVID-19 situation, the Government has decreed a partial country lockdown. The Government has taken some sanitary, social and economic measures. In early April, the World Bank through the International Development Association (IDA) approved a USD 7.5 million grant to strengthen the preparedness of the national health system in terms of prevention, detection and response to the threat posed by the virus. Official restrictions on population movements, combined with heightened levels of fear, have led many people to stay at their homes. These measures have already affected the flow of farm produce to the markets and further restrictions on population movements could hamper the access to land and have a negative impact on 2020 agricultural production.