Standing waist-deep in a hole, South African maize farmer Tom van Rooyen digs at the side with a small pickaxe. “There is moisture 25 centimeters down but nothing beyond that. If we get below-average rains, it will be a disaster,” he said, wiping the red dust from his calloused hands. Poor rains are forecast for South Africa’s maize belt because of the El Nino weather pattern, expected to bring more drought to already-parched southern regions in Africa and potential flooding in the east. This will add misery to the world’s poorest continent, already reeling from a collapse in commodity prices triggered by China’s slowing economic growth.

Aid agency Oxfam warned this week that 10 million people, mostly in Africa, face hunger because of droughts and unusual rainfall patterns caused by a “super” El Nino. Also called “Little Boy” or “Christ Child” – Peruvian fishermen first noted it around Christmas – El Nino is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years. The last “super” El Nino occurred in 1997-1998. CONTINUE