How Drought Leads to Famine in Africa

Africa is a large continent, with forests, grasslands, and deserts. Farmers in Africa grow crops each year to feed their families and animals, hoping that there will be something left over as seed for next season and to sell to other people. If something goes wrong and the fields do not produce enough food, farmers, their families, and other people who depend on them might not have enough to eat.

When little or no rain falls in an area that usually gets rain, crops and pastures there start to wither and die. This is called a drought. In most of North America, plants grow when the weather warms up and the spring rains come. In most of Africa, it is warm all year, and plants begin to grow whenever it rains.

Farming requires four basic things: sunshine, water, soil and seed.

The sun brings the rains, allowing plants to grow

Satellite Weather Image Animated gif
Plants need sunshine to grow. Notice how the rains follow the sun north and south - this is because the warmth from the sun causes water to evaporate. It then forms clouds and eventually rain. So, in the tropics, the sun brings rain. Even if crops are watered from a well or a river, their survival and growth depend ultimately on rain. Rains fall at different times in different parts of Africa, and farmers have learned to plant their crops to match the usual rainfall patterns where they live. The yearly cycle of planting, growing crops and harvesting follows the sun and rains. If crops are poor, people may be hungry for a long time before they can get food from the next harvest.

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