El Niño’s effects on cereal production
Source: Flick, Jankie

A new Policy Brief written by Paul Dorosh, Adam Kennedy and Maximo Torero has been published by IFPRI.  The brief, “El Niño and cereal production shortfalls: Policies for resilience and food security in 2016 and beyond” discusses the effects of the El Niño on cereal production across the impacted regions.   El Niño has not had the same impact all over the world. The alteration of the rain pattern has affected positively a few regions, though most regions have seen delayed and reduced rainfalls that disturbed the harvest calendar, delaying planting, maturation and in some cases the soil fertility in itself. However, the outcomes and responses to the harmful effects has been dependent on the safety-net structures available in each country and region, as well as food security and trade policies.

The authors note that although the cereal production at a global level has been negatively affected, the otherwise steady increase for the last few years helped build up strong grain reserves and the projected production is still above the three-year average. Commodity prices also remain at an all-time low since 2010. Nonetheless, it should be noted that this is from a global perspective, and special regional behaviors should be addressed. The authors remark that   price transmission between global and local markets and the effects of events such as El Niño depend on specific trade policies, such as open borders and transparent institutions.

In India, El Niño has had a number of localized effects. In the northwestern part of the country, an extensive drought has provoked the delayed planting of crops, while in the southeast, heavy rains impacted the North East monsoon and caused deadly flooding. In addition to the effects on the rainfall patterns, the temperatures were an all-time record high during December 2015. The authors note that the consequences of El Niño in the country are then expected to be a reduction of cereal yields of approximately 10 million metric tons which is equivalent to 3 percent of the national production. This will affect global rice stocks that are projected to be tight given depletion in the main exporters, India and Thailand. USDA’s GAIN report  from February 2016 also observes that the country’s wheat production is expected to have lower than normal yields, due to moisture and temperature stress during the different phenological phases of the crop, making the country a net importer of the commodity.  However, as it is reported in the IFPRI brief, because the country has large stocks of these commodities and the weather variation has positively affected neighbor countries, food security effects are not expected to be seen in the population as a whole.

The authors of the Policy Brief recommend that to be able to aid the population most vulnerable to the changing weather patterns, it is important to have emergency relief projects already designed and well-structured as well as scaled-up targeted safety net programs.

Given that emergency relief programs often rely upon grain reserves in regions less hit by the crisis, it is important to avoid restrictions on international and domestic trade that might disturb the flow from surplus to deficit areas. International trade can be facilitated by simplifying customs bureaucracy, tariffs and restrictions. Therefore, there is a need to ensure that grain stocks and reserves are being built nationally. Private holdings should be encouraged, for example, by avoiding “anti-hoarding” laws, and facilitating research and development on tools and methods that diminish the cost of storage and post-harvest losses. As noted in our site before, post-harvest loss is very destructive to the food security of the population, and its avoidance can help mitigate the effects of uncertain weather patterns through food stocks. Government investment in infrastructure such as roads, communication networks and storage facilities can help facilitate the buildup of commodities reserves.

Thus, in the short-term, emergency relief interventions focused on nutrition need to be implemented among the vulnerable populations, but in the medium-long term, the information system should strengthen access to information on production and prices, as well as institutional reforms to facilitate trade, infrastructure and technology investments, to ensure that the food system is more resilient to weather shocks.

Written by Florencia Paz, MTID

Photo credit:Flick, Jankie