How the El Niño can make you pay more for food and meat

File picture: Pexels

File picture: Pexels

Published Sep 28, 2023


El Niño is a natural climate phenomenon that can have devastating effects on agriculture and energy. But it can also tremendously bring up prices of food and meat products across the globe.

This is according to a senior researcher at the ARC’s Natural Resources and Engineering division Johan Malherbe, who shed light on this topic during an online session organised by Earthnews365 in partnership with the LandBank.

El Niño's Impact on Agriculture in South Africa

To evaluate how it affects food prices, we have to first examine how it affects agriculture.

Usually, during our summer months from November to March, . the EI Nino event results in drier conditions in South Africa, which is not ideal for agriculture. A significant part of our agriculture relies on rainfall, and South Africa typically doesn't receive enough rain for maximum production.

The Negative Effects on Corn and Maize Yields

One of the main consequences of El Niño in South Africa is reduced corn and maize yields. As highlighted above, the insufficient rainfall during El Niño events affects these crucial crops.

How does the yields affect prices?

During the El Nino event, countries all over the world face similar challenges. India face reduced yields in rice, cotton, soybeans, and grains during El Niño events. In Indonesia, both rice and palm oil yields suffer. Additionally, Australia experiences decreased wheat (winter grain) yields during El Niño events.

“All of these global impacts effect our prices in terms of what the export parity is and what the international prices are. These are just some of the impacts El Niño and (its counterpart) La Niña have on our production, prices and food security in South Africa,” said Malherbe.

Malherbe also tackled how reduced or increase in crop yield in other countries directly affects prices.

“During our previous El Niño, there were good crops yielded in Brazil and that had a negative impact on the international price but because we (South Africa) had a drought later during the 2015 El Nino, our prices for maize went up because we had to import and that was quite expensive.

He explained that during the country’s previous La Nina in 2021, there was a negative impact on the grain crops in the Southern parts of Brazil and that in turn had a very strong positive affect on the international prices. However, even though the country produced a lot of maize, the prices were relatively high due to high international prices

Impact on Beef Prices

El Niño's effects on grazing areas directly impact beef prices.

“Areas affected by more grazing has a direct effect on beef prices. During the strongest El Ninos, people had to get rid of their animals because of not enough grazing activity and an over supply from slaughtering houses. These result in a negative effect on beef.”

El Niño significantly impacts food prices in South Africa, particularly corn (maize) and beef. The erratic weather patterns during El Niño events disrupt agriculture, leading to reduced crop yields and increased food prices.

Moreover, the influence of El Niño extends beyond South Africa's borders, affecting global markets and international prices.