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A late start to main season rains threatens crops and labor demand

  • Alert
  • East Africa
  • August 22, 2013
A late start to main season rains threatens crops and labor demand

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  • Summary
  • Situation

  • Summary

    The 2013 June to September rains began poorly in parts of East Africa. While rainfall has improved in recent weeks, precipitation would need to continue through the remainder of the season, and in some cases, last longer than usual, in order for cropping to recover. If this does not occur, reduced crop production is likely, particularly in Sudan. The impact on food security would extend beyond the drought‐affected areas, especially because the affected areas of Sudan are the “grain‐basket” of the sub‐region.


    In large areas of eastern and central Sudan, northwestern Ethiopia, and southwest Eritrea, rainfall totals to date are 20‐50 percent below average (Figure 1). This dryness delayed planting, reduced planted area, and forced farmers to switch to shorter cycle, lower‐yielding varieties. Forecasts for the rest of the season suggest average rains, which may be insufficient in quantity and length to mitigate the season’s poor start. National governments and their humanitarian partners should begin contingency planning in the event that the current season does not fully recover.  

    The delay was most severe in eastern Sudan, where rains began 30‐40 days late. Area planted is reportedly 30 percent below average and crops are doing poorly. In Qadarif, the most productive state in Sudan, satellite imagery indicates that rainfall and vegetation conditions are at their lowest level since at least 2001. These areas produce 60 percent of Sudan’s sorghum (Table 1), are important sources of  employment, and provide grain to Eritrea and border areas of Ethiopia. Significantly reduced crop production would affect food availability, income, and prices throughout the sub‐region. Recent flooding in Sudan (Figure 1) has damaged seedlings, spoiled recently planted seed, and could delay planting and weeding, further reducing planted area and crop yields.  

    In Ethiopia, dryness has been concentrated in western Tigray, a surplus sorghum‐producing area and an important source of labor opportunities for poor households from neighboring areas. This area, along with adjacent areas of Amhara, produces more than 60 percent of Ethiopia’s sesame crop, an important source of export earnings. Below‐average rainfall over the remainder of the season would reduce sesame production and agricultural labor demand.  However, current crop conditions and short‐term rainfall forecasts are better than in Sudan, lowering the risk of acute food insecurity in this region and neighboring areas that supply labor. Below‐average rainfall also occurred over cropping areas of Eritrea but no information on crop conditions is available.

    FEWS NET will continue to monitor seasonal performance. An upcoming joint assessment (FEWS NET, FAO, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation) in eastern Sudan will provide more detail on conditions and prospects for 2013 harvests.  

    Figures Figure 1. Areas of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea affected by below-average June-August rainfall

    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET/NOAA, FEWS NET, Dartmouth Flood Observatory

    Table 1. Average state-level contribution to Sudan’s national sorghum production (2003/04-2012/13)

    Figure 2

    Table 1

    Source: Sudan Ministry of Agriculture

    FEWS NET will publish an Alert to highlight a current or anticipated shock expected to drive a sharp deterioration in food security, such that a humanitarian food assistance response is imminently needed.

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