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Poor start to the belg, gu, and long rains impacting rangeland resources

  • Seasonal Monitor
  • East Africa
  • April 30, 2021
Poor start to the belg, gu, and long rains impacting rangeland resources

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • From March to mid-April, the seasonal rains across the Horn were largely well below average, around 40-60 percent of average, across most of the region. However, a few areas over the western sector recorded average to above average rainfall.

    • Rangeland resources have declined driven by the cumulative adverse impacts of the poor 2020 short-rains, hotter-than-normal conditions since January, and cumulatively below-average rainfall, particularly over the predominantly pastoral and marginal mixed agricultural areas of the eastern Horn.

    • Due to the significantly delayed onset (20-30 days) of the seasonal rains in belg/gu/long-rains dependent areas, most planted crops are in the emergence to early vegetative crop stages. However, in some belg dependent areas, planting has not taken place. There are increasing concerns of crop water stress and limited crop growth and development due to the anticipated subsiding of the seasonal rains in May.

    • The one to two week rainfall outlook indicates widespread moderate to localized very heavy rainfall across Ethiopia, parts of Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and East Africa’s coastal regions. These rains are expected to be beneficial to the agricultural sector and elevate the risk of localized floods in parts of the region.


    From March to mid-April, the seasonal rains were generally characterized by a 20 to 30 days onset delay and cumulatively severe rainfall deficits across East Africa, particularly in pastoral and marginal agricultural livelihoods that rely heavily on the March to May rainfall season. The worst-affected areas are Afar, Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and SNNP regions of Ethiopia based on CHIRPS preliminary rainfall anomalies (Figure 1). However, rainfall anomalies have been average to above-average, attributed to the earlier-than-normal onset (20-days) and fairly well-distributed rainfall in localized areas of southwestern SNNPR, providing relatively more favorable cropping conditions. Other areas that have also observed above-average rainfall anomalies include northwestern Tanzania, western Kenya, southern Uganda, and parts of Rwanda and Burundi. Across the rest of the region, rainfall deficits of 25mm to 100mm below average have been recorded, with eastern coastal regions of Tanzania, localized areas of Kenya, and central Ethiopia accumulating rainfall deficits of more than 100 mm over the past two months (Figure 1).

    Vegetation conditions have continued to deteriorate rapidly across the region, driven by the cumulative adverse impacts of the poor 2020 October-December rains, a hotter-than-normal dry season between January and March, and ongoing poor start and establishment of the gu/belg/long rains. The drier-than-normal vegetation conditions across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have adversely impacted rangeland resources, livestock body conditions, and livestock productivity (Figure 2). However, much of Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and south and central Uganda have observed average to greener-than-normal conditions, along with parts of central and northern Somalia, and western Ethiopia into Sudan. Meanwhile, vegetation conditions are currently exceptionally greener than normal over the eastern and central regions of South Sudan, especially along the Nile river, where high river levels and forecast rainfall is increasing the likelihood for earlier-than-normal and above-average floods in the coming months, based on both short-term to seasonal rainfall forecast outlooks.

    The delayed onset of rainfall and subsequently delayed planting in most parts of equatorial and belg cropping regions has resulted in crops being in the emergence to early vegetative crop stages, which is significantly late in the season. FEWS NET crop simulation models complemented by field assessment reports confirm that significantly delayed planting has occurred in parts of eastern, southeastern lowlands, and coastal regions of Kenya, southern Somalia, northeastern Tanzania, and Ethiopia’s belg cropping zones in Oromia, Amhara, Afar, and Tigray.

    The poor rainfall has mitigated the maturation and breeding of desert locust swarms in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Yemen. With the wind direction expected to change to a strong southerly wind (south to north) in May/June, there is an increased likelihood for most of the swarms to travel northwards.

    The following is a country-by-country update on recent seasonal progress to date:

    • In Somalia, the seasonal rains have been widely below average, with an early to delayed onset in March and April. Across the country, cumulative rainfall is 45-65 percent of normal, reflecting deficits of 10-100 mm. Distribution is also poor, leading to crop moisture stress and water scarcity. Cropping conditions are the poorest in the Lower Shabelle region. Rangeland conditions in much of central and northern Somalia are poor due to drier- and hotter-than-normal conditions since December. There are reports of livestock miscarriages, some atypical hunger- and disease-related livestock deaths, and very low milk availability in many northern and central pastoral areas. However, increased rainfall in late April heading into early May is anticipated to generate short-term improvements to pasture, browse, and water resources and cropping conditions. Nevertheless, the season is progressing poorly and requires close monitoring at this critical peak period of its seasonal rains.
    • In Ethiopia, belg rainfall has largely been significantly below average, ranging from 45-75 percent of normal, characterized by erratic and significantly delayed onset over most parts of Tigray, Amhara, SNPPR, and Afar regions. Parts of southern Afar are currently under moderate to severe meteorological drought conditions (SPI < -1.2), along with parts of Oromia and SNNPR. Some of these worst-affected areas are yet to plant long-cycle crops or are beginning to plant following the recent intensification of seasonal rainfall. However, areas of SNNPR bordering South Sudan and Kenya had an earlier than normal rainfall onset in mid-February and continued to receive favorable rainfall supporting good belg crop conditions. For most belg receiving areas, the cropping season has yet to be established. However, there is a high likelihood for widespread moderate to locally very heavy rainfall in the coming weeks, which is expected to support increased agricultural activities for the long-cycle crops across Ethiopia. There is an elevated probability for flooding over the Blue Nile, Awash, Baro Akobo, and Omo-Gibe River catchments in Ethiopia during this period. This could mark an earlier-than-normal onset of rainfall and the start of agricultural activities in kiremt dependent areas. Rangeland resources are also expected to improve in May with the forecast gradually, but with little or no relief to current meteorological drought conditions for the northeastern regions of Afar and Tigray.
    •  In Kenya, the establishment of the March to May long rains has generally been poor and delayed. Along the Kenyan coastal areas, southeastern lowlands, and parts of the eastern and northern counties, planting was delayed by over 20 days due to rainfall deficits. In pastoral areas, the poor 2020 short-rains season, coupled with the prolonged and hotter-than-normal land surface temperatures, has depleted rangeland resources in most pastoral and marginal agricultural areas. Although the intensification of the seasonal rains in late April has brought some relief to coastal, southeastern, and eastern Kenya, most crops are in the emergence to early vegetative crop stages. There is growing concern about early to timely cessation of the March-May rains, which is likely to limit crop growth and create water stress at critical crop stages in May, particularly in southeastern lowland cropping areas. In unimodal areas of Kenya, an early to timely onset has supported near-average crop planting activities. Under current climatic conditions, favorable cropping and rangeland conditions are likely to be maintained into much of May. Desert locusts are declining, and the infestation is generally under control.
    • In Sudan, the dry season is on-going, but, with atypical hotter-than-normal land surface temperatures. Rangeland conditions are near-average, with areas along the Nile valleys and western Darfur recording better-than-average conditions. With the anticipated faster-than-normal northward progression of the tropical rainfall system (ITCZ) into the Sudans and Ethiopia, there are associated indications of an earlier-than-normal onset from May to June, with above-average June-September seasonal rains forecast.
    • In South Sudan, the March-April seasonal rains were characterized by early-season deficits and uneven distribution. The rainfall deficits were more pronounced over the western regions but relatively insignificant in these high rainfall regions. More rain is expected in the coming weeks, with an increased likelihood for continued average to greener-than-average vegetation conditions. The high Nile river levels and its environs have maintained exceptional greener-than-normal vegetation and cooler-than-normal conditions over much of the eastern region bordering Ethiopia.  Most crops in the western regions, and some parts of the eastern region, are in the emergence to early vegetative crop stages, with crops in favorable conditions. Consumption of green vegetables has started in Yambio. In localized areas of Juba county, Central Equatoria, land clearance is occurring due to delays to the start of the March-May rains.
    • In Uganda, the start of the seasonal rains occurred in February to early March, which was generally earlier than normal. However, some localized areas have experienced a slightly delayed onset around the Lake Victoria region, and rainfall performance in northern and parts of eastern Uganda are thus far below average. Nevertheless, current cropping conditions are mostly favorable, with early indications of near-average yield prospects. However, Karamoja and other parts of the Northwest currently have drier-than-normal vegetation conditions due to prolonged dry periods, exacerbated by well below average rainfall between March and mid-April. A favorable rainfall forecast is expected to improve rangeland resources in the coming weeks into May gradually.
    • In Rwanda and Burundi, season B rains (March-May) are underway and progressing well, despite the early erratic onset and some deficits in parts of eastern Burundi. The early planted crops are in late vegetative to reproductive stages and largely in good condition. Rangeland conditions have also gradually improved and remain greener-than-normal. Persistent cloudiness in these countries associated with ongoing rains continues to hinder comprehensive satellite-based vegetation assessments. However, available field reports confirm favorable agricultural conditions. More rains are forecast in the coming weeks into May, with expected beneficial impacts but localized flooding in areas forecast to experience excessive rains.
    • In Yemen, the western highlands are drier- and hotter-than-normal based on satellite-derived data, due to below-average March to mid-April rainfall, with the rest of Yemen being in near-average conditions. However, there is an increased likelihood for moderate to heavy rainfall over the western and coastal cropping zones in the coming weeks. The rest of the country is expected to remain typically sunny and dry during the period under review. Desert locusts are in the country, and the southerly monsoonal winds are likely to transfer the remnants of the locusts in Somalia and Ethiopia into Yemen in the coming weeks. There is still a need for close monitoring of the pests in the coming weeks with the expected changes in climate and environmental conditions.


    According to the one-week rainfall outlook for April 27 to May 5, there is an increased likelihood for widespread moderate to locally very heavy rain across Ethiopia, parts of South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Somalia (Figure 3). The forecast rains are expected to be very heavy over Tanzania/Kenya coastal strip following the development and weakening of tropical cyclone Jobo. Overall, parts of the Tanzania/Kenya coastal strip, the Lake Victoria basin and its surrounding areas, and southern Ethiopia and Somalia are expected to receive cumulatively 60 to 150 mm of rainfall this week. There are elevated flood risks in localized areas receiving these intense but episodic heavy rainfall amounts.

    The forecast rains are largely expected to provide short-term improvements to crop and rangeland resources. Djibouti and Yemen are also expected to experience widespread moderate to heavy rains this week. However, much of Kenya, and parts of central and southern Somalia, and northwestern Ethiopia are likely to receive little or no rainfall over the next two weeks (Figure 3).

    Overall, rainfall through May 5, based on observed and forecast rains, is likely to remain below average, with a gradual easing of excessive rainfall deficits in parts of northern and central Ethiopia, northern Somalia, and parts of western Kenya and eastern Uganda (Figure 4). There is increasing concern that the current seasonal rains may subside/cease in May, severely limiting the typical crop growth to one month, especially over the eastern Horn’s marginal agricultural areas. Although the replenishment of surface water and pasture regeneration in parts of the eastern Horn is anticipated, improvements are expected to be short-lived, owing to the lack of sustained effective rainfall to ensure favorable rangeland resources between May and late October. 


    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: UC Santa Barabara Climate Hazards Center

    Figure 2

    Figure 2.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 3.

    Source: NOAA/CPC

    Figure 4

    Figure 4.

    Source: UC Santa Barabara Climate Hazards Center

    FEWS NET’s Seasonal Monitor reports are produced for Central America and the Caribbean, West Africa, East Africa, Central Asia, and Somalia every 10-to-30 days during the region’s respective rainy season(s). Seasonal Monitors report updates on weather events (e.g., rainfall patterns) and associated impacts on ground conditions (e.g., cropping conditions, pasture and water availability), as well as the short-term rainfall forecast. Find more remote sensing information here.

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