Policy Brief: El Niño and Cereal Production Shortfalls

Policies for Resilience and Food Security in 2016 and Beyond

The current El Niño episode may be among the strongest on record. Past El Niño episodes have caused rainfall and temperature fluctuations leading to agricultural production shortfalls, higher food prices, and disease outbreaks that adversely affected food and nutrition security in various regions worldwide. Rapidly rising food prices are particularly harmful for poor consumers who spend as much as 50 to 70 percent of income on food. This year again, serious localized production shortfalls have occurred or are expected, creating an urgent need for policy actions to ensure adequate food supply and food mobility from surplus to deficit regions. Although global cereal production is not expected to decline significantly, complacency is not warranted: The situation calls for careful monitoring of production and prices, promotion of transparent international and domestic trade policies, and expanded coverage of safety nets and nutrition programs for the households most severely affected, all while working toward long-term improvements in resilience and agricultural production.

El Niño’s Effect on Production and Markets

El Niño is a periodic weather pattern caused by a fluctuation in sea surface temperature across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This warmer water modifies the overlying atmosphere, which affects weather conditions in many parts of the world. El Niño conditions are currently present but are likely to abate during late northern hemisphere spring or early summer 2016.

Most regions suffering negative impacts from El Niño are experiencing reduced rainfall, which may delay planting, impact crop maturation, or reduce the viability of pasture lands. However, the effects of El Niño vary considerably, and some regions may experience weather that is actually more favorable for agricultural production. Moreover, the agricultural impact of El Niño-related shocks depends largely on the timing, duration, and strength of the El Niño. Also, the economic and welfare impacts depend on the domestic food, trade, and safety-net policies of major exporters and importers.

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(with Adam Kennedy and Paul Dorosh)

(Photo: Martine Perret/United Nations via Creative Commons.)