Researchers from UC Santa Barbara’s Climate Hazards Center have released a new study that identifies how the start of season indicators could predict potential famines.
Two key metrics are used to determine famine risk: availability and accessibility. Availability refers to yields, while accessibility refers to production as well as prices and distribution. Even when yields are strong, fluctuations in price and distribution can significantly impact food availability.
For their study, the researchers used standard economic forecasting models in relation to two aspects of the start of season planting: the timeliness of start of season planting and the amount of rainfall during the first month following planting. When comparing these metrics with grain prices, they found that start of season data increases model accuracy by as much as 25 percent, meaning that the earliest data from a planting season is highly influential in predicting the eventual availability and accessibility of food. Their model was particularly effective in the eastern African countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, where the rainy season is shorter.
For example, growth during the first month of planting can provide a reasonable estimate of end of season yields. This early growth is generally what determines grain prices as well, so it is a good measure of later food accessibility.
Using early season metrics to predict famines can help governments and NGOs prepare for food shortages with improved distribution infrastructure and imports. The Climate Hazards Center plans to begin incorporating this start of season prediction model into their reporting as soon as next year to help governments and organizations take advantage of its insights.
Source study: Environmental Research Letters – Sending out an SOS: using start of rainy season indicators for market price forecasting to support famine early warning