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La Nina Weather May Drive Up Global Food Prices

  • The latest forecasts suggest a high chance that the La Nina weather phenomenon will return towards the end of this year

  • Most of the SADC region is expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall in the next summer rains

  • Global food prices, however, tend to rise during moderate and strong La Nina periods

Alexa Archibald
Alexa Archibald

Commodities Analyst

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ETM Analytics
9 September 2021
Published byETM Analytics

The latest forecasts suggest a high chance that the La Nina weather phenomenon will return towards the end of this year. La Nina tends to result in cooler conditions in the tropical waters of the eastern pacific as the warmer water is pushed west.  This weather forecast is also associated with a heightened risk of flooding and cyclones and cooler daytime temperatures in parts of the world.

Most of the SADC region is, therefore, expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall in the next summer rains according to a seasonal forecast from the 25th Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum. For example, Zimbabwe is expecting improved rain that will help replenish the ground and dam water resources, bolstering water, food, and energy security for the country. Increased rainfall in this area will result in around 1.8 million tonnes of maize and 200,000 tonnes of traditional grain being produced.

The seasonal rainfall outlook is a critical planning tool that helps farmers select the most suitable varieties and even the right crops to plant, depending on the weather conditions expected in their area. The La Nina weather system is expected to be one of the major drivers of this forecast. These improved weather conditions will positively impact agriculture, water resources, and hydropower generation in most of the regions.

These weather conditions are, however, likely to also bring locusts, armoured crickets, and the fall armyworm. It’s very important that farmers in these regions plan and intensify surveillance of pests to minimise the potential damage to crops. There is also a higher likelihood of flooding, cyclones, and leaching, so proper draining measures must be implemented. If these risks are not managed, La Nina could end up having a negative impact on global agricultural production.

Globally, meanwhile, the weather phenomenon may end up lowering the output of food staples in certain countries, especially in Northern and Southern America.  This could result in lower exportable availabilities and higher international prices, which will raise import costs and put pressure on retail prices to the detriment of consumers.

Bottom line: The forecasted weather that La Nina will bring will positively impact agriculture, water resources, and hydropower generation for the SADC region. The resulting increase in yield in the SADC region will help offset lower supply from the US and other regions that were negatively impacted by recent adverse weather conditions.

When looking at the past impact of La Nina on the FAO Food Price Index, however, it can be noted that a moderate to strong La Nina will often result in higher general food prices. Therefore, La Nina may have a positive impact on the food production in the SADC region, but it may drive international prices higher, and make it more attractive for farmers to export unless local prices adjust.