New research links conditions at the beginning of the start of the growing season to grain prices in five African countries.

The first rains that signal the beginning of the growing season kick off a flurry of activities in rural, agricultural communities. Farmers decide when to plant, how much labor to allocate, how many resources to devote to that season’s crop, and so on.

For those in the famine response community, the start of season (SOS) is also the earliest indicator of what’s to come over the following months. As a result, scientists at UC Santa Barbara have been working to use the SOS as an early indicator of food insecurity.

Researchers at the university’s Climate Hazards Center (CHC) have released a study in Environmental Research Letters, the second study the group has published analyzing the effects of the SOS, and the findings should enable even earlier forecasts of potential famine.

“The start of the rainy season—its conditions and whether it’s early or late—has real predictive power for food security,” says first author Frank Davenport, an associate researcher at the CHC. The timing of the SOS sends a tangible signal to markets in the region, which researchers can take into consideration when predicting food security and organizing famine response. The CHC works closely with the Famine Early Warning System Network Team (FEWS NET), which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) created to coordinate humanitarian aid.

The FEWS NET uses several metrics to judge a population’s vulnerability to food insecurity. Two major factors are food availability and accessibility, explains coauthor Shraddhanand Shukla, who is an associate researcher at the CHC. Food availability usually correlates with agricultural production (i.e., how good the previous harvest was). Food accessibility relates to production as well as prices and distribution.

Read the full article about predicting famine by Harrison Tasoff at Futurity.