9 February 1998




El Niño-related irregular and ill-distributed precipitation and temperature anomalies continue to affect crops in many parts of the region. In the southern areas of South America, heavy rains hampered harvesting of the 1997 wheat crop, which has just been completed. The output and quality of this crop has been adversely affected in some areas. By contrast, abundant rains have benefited the development of the 1998 maize crop to be harvested from late February. In the Andean countries, heavy rains and flooding are affecting planting of the 1998 cereal crops in various parts, while drought is severely affecting crops in other zones. In the central parts of the sub-region, abnormally high temperatures prevail from the Andes eastward to the Atlantic seaboard, posing a serious threat to planting of the 1998 maize crop in some parts.

Reflecting the impact of El Niño, the aggregate cereal import requirements in the 1997/98 marketing year are anticipated to increase significantly from the previous year’s level of 30 million tonnes.

The situation by sub-region is as follows:


Growing conditions have been particularly difficult for the recently harvested 1997/98 second season crops due to the adverse effects of El Niño, which reached its peak by the end of the year. Persistent dry weather in January and its expected continuation in the next few weeks could seriously jeopardize sowing of the 1998 first season cereal crops in most countries to be started in March.

Costa Rica

Dry weather, combined with unusually high temperatures still prevails over most of the country. Water rationing is being implemented in some areas as these conditions are forecast to continue in the weeks ahead, (March and April are normally the warmest months in the country). A state of emergency was declared by the Government in September, and contingency measures such as the construction of water tanks, reservoirs, etc. have been adopted to help the rural population cope with the effects of El Niño. Many small maize producers, mostly at subsistence level, experienced severe crop losses. Rice sustained serious losses in the large producing northern province of Guanacaste, and to a lesser extent in the central areas along the Pacific coast and the southern province of Puntarenas. The important coffee crop was also affected and lower yields are consequently anticipated. Pastures continue to be affected by drought and the cattle industry is expected to suffer in the long run from these unusual conditions. A programme prepared by the Government to store foliage for cattle and other initiatives has been initiated.


Precipitation has been irregular in the last two months and abnormally high temperatures have been reported. Intensive but isolated rains are forecast in the months ahead. So far no damage has been reported to food crops such as potatoes and vegetables. The rainfed (winter) paddy crop is currently being planted. Harvesting of the important sugar cane crop started in November, well in advance of its normal harvest period of January, to avoid losses by heavy rains at the peak of El Niño phenomenon in late December.

Dominican Republic

Heavy rains and flooding in January have negatively affected crops, particularly in the northern and north-western areas of the country. Considerable losses are reported to paddy and other crops (tomatoes, onions, plantains, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans and bananas), which are important for the food security of the region. Losses have also been incurred by cash crops (tobacco). Damage to housing and infrastructure is reported. About 21 000 people, mostly small farmers, have been affected. More rains are forecast in the weeks ahead. The Government has requested international assistance.

El Salvador

Normal weather in the last few weeks has been too late to reverse the damage caused by earlier drought to the recently harvested 1997/98 second season maize crop. A considerably below-average output has been gathered. The bean crop, by contrast, was not seriously affected by the dry weather and an average harvest has been gathered. Normal growing conditions are reported for sorghum and some improvement in production is expected to help compensate for the losses of maize. Despite the drop in maize production, cereal prices have remained stable mainly due to the timely intervention by the Government in facilitating imports. However, emergency food assistance is required, as well as the need for assistance for the rehabilitation of agricultural activities. Technical assistance and other forms of support are being provided by the Government and other public institutions, and an appeal for assistance to the international community has been made by the Government for the affected population in the eastern part of the country.


Harvesting of the 1997/98 second season cereal crops has been nearly completed under generally dry weather. A reduced output of maize, the main cereal, is anticipated due to severe drought-induced losses to first season crops, and to intensive rains and flood damage to the plantings of the second season crops. Production of sorghum is also expected to be below average. The food situation is tight in rural areas. Government and private institutions have adopted a wide range of emergency measures to help mitigate the effects of El Niño. An appeal for emergency food aid and technical assistance has been made to the international community.


Adequate rains in November have been followed by an erratic rain pattern since December, but this is unlikely to delay planting of the 1998 first season cereal, bean and other food crops, which normally starts in February. More rains are forecast in the weeks ahead. The area planted to maize and paddy (irrigated and non-irrigated) is expected to recover from 1997 when the crops were severely affected by drought throughout the first half of the year. The food situation remains tight and assistance is being provided by the international community.


Irregular and ill-distributed rains in the last two months had no adverse effect on the 1997/98 second season (main) maize, sorghum and bean crops currently being harvested. An average maize output, but lower than previously forecast, is anticipated. Production of sorghum should be below average as a consequence of the losses incurred by drought to first season (main) crop, particularly in the south. Paddy output is also anticipated to decline but to a lesser extent as the bulk of the crop is grown in the northern, central and northeastern areas where the effects of the drought have been less intense. Government has requested international assistance to the affected population, mostly subsistence farmers, for emergency food aid and the rehabilitation of agricultural activities. To help mitigate the impact of El Niño, the Government has undertaken a number of measures including construction of small irrigation systems and temporary reservoirs, and drilling of wells.


Despite drought damage to rainfed crops, particularly in the south-western parts of the country, followed by hurricanes, the production of maize and sorghum has been satisfactory. Water reservoirs are at adequate levels for the 1998 irrigated wheat crop to be harvested from April, and an average output is tentatively forecast. However, storms and heavy rains forecast for the northern parts of the country in the next two months could affect plantings in the large producing states of Sonora and Sinaloa.


Irregular and ill-distributed rains in December negatively affected the 1997/98 second season ("postrera") crops, currently being harvested, and delayed planting of the third season ("apante") crop. A reduced output of maize, the main cereal, is expected, mostly as a consequence of the severe drought damage to the first season crops. Production of sorghum is also expected to decline significantly from last year. The Government has appealed for international assistance in the form of emergency food aid and technical support for the rehabilitation of agricultural activities.


Unusually high temperatures and dry conditions continue to affect the country, particularly the Pacific coastal provinces. Precipitation, mostly on the Atlantic coast, has been irregular and ill-distributed. Prospects are extremely uncertain for the planting of the 1998 paddy and maize crops to start in April, as latest forecasts point out to drier than normal weather in the weeks ahead. About 100 000 tons of rice, the main cereal, are likely to be imported in 1998 to help meet the deficit in last year’s production. The livestock sector was also severely affected in 1997 and the situation could deteriorate in the current year due to the poor state of pastures. Only irrigated crops, such as bananas, were spared drought damage. Assistance for emergency food to the affected population and the rehabilitation of agricultural activities has been requested from the international community. Several emergency measures have also been adopted by the Government to help mitigate the impact of El Niño.


The strong impact of El Niño continued into January in most countries of the sub-region. Unusually warm and dry conditions persist in the northwestern parts of South America, while torrential rains and flooding are reported along the coasts of Ecuador and northern Peru. In the central parts of the sub-region, warm temperatures are registered from the Andes eastward to the Atlantic seaboard, with record high temperatures in various locations. In the southern areas, heavy rains continue in some parts and wetter than normal conditions are expected in the weeks ahead.


Harvesting of the 1997 wheat crop has been recently completed following some disruption caused by the intensive rains. The crop is reported in good condition in the southern parts of the key producing province of Buenos Aires, while crop quality problems are reported in the western parts of this province and northern and central La Pampa. In the northern sections of the wheat producing belt, where precipitation has been the heaviest, lower yields are expected. Production should decline from last year’s record but should nevertheless remain well above the 5-year average. The excess humidity, by contrast, has largely benefited the 1998 maize crop, to be harvested from March, and a record output is anticipated. A bumper sorghum crop is also expected.


Generally dry conditions in the highlands and valleys are affecting the planting of the 1998 first season cereal and potato crops currently underway. Reduced plantings are reported in some parts where sowing has already been completed. Intensive precipitation and flooding, by contrast, in the Amazonian areas were reported in December. A state of national emergency was declared in September, when torrential rains and flooding resulted in some casualties and heavy damage to infrastructure in the south-western parts of the country. Contingency measures and a plan of action have been prepared by the Government to assist the agricultural sector, as well as other sectors, to cope with the possible effects of the phenomenon. These measures include the use of more resistant crop varieties, the rehabilitation and improvement of existing silo establishments, the increase in production of substitutes to the important potato crop (mostly grown in the drought affected highlands) and the safe storage of seeds.


The output of the recently harvested 1997 wheat crop was lower than in 1996, but still above average. The decline has been mainly due to the torrential rains in the main producing southern states of Parana, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. Harvesting of the 1998 maize crop has already started in some of the southern areas and output is tentatively forecast to decline considerably from the high 1997 production level, mainly as a consequence of reduced plantings. However, the decline in area planted is principally due to farmers’ decision to switch to alternative crops which attract higher prices relative to maize. In the north-east of the country, where sowing of the 1998 maize crops should start from March, the outlook is poor as extremely dry conditions associated with El Niño have prevailed for weeks. Planting levels remain uncertain as drier than normal conditions are forecast to prevail until April. The majority are subsistence farmers living off small crops of maize, beans and cassava. Pastures are also being affected by the moisture deficits.


Heavy rains in October and part of November affected plantings in the major wheat producing central areas of the country. The output of the 1998 crop, currently being harvested, is expected to decline from 1997. As a result, increased imports will be required to cover the anticipated production deficit. In December, below-normal rains were registered throughout the country, with considerably higher temperatures relative to the previous months, which raised concern at the risk of forest fires in certain areas. Generally normal weather conditions were reported in January, which improved the outlook for the 1998 maize crop to be harvested from March.


Abnormally warm and prolonged dry conditions persist in the north-western parts of the country. Severe dry conditions are also reported along the Andean mountain range, in the mountain valleys, and along the Caribbean and parts of the northern Pacific coasts. Water reservoir levels are reported to be low and water and electric power rationing measures have been implemented in some areas, particularly in the northern departments of Guajira, Magdalena and Bolivar. Similar measures have been implemented in the central departments of Santander, Cundimarca, and Tolima, as well in the departments of Cauca and Nariño in the south-west. The number of forest fires continues to increase because of the drought, and river transportation and access to marine ports have become increasingly difficult. By contrast, heavy rains and flooding are reported in some regions of the Pacific coast, as well as in the interior departments of Caquetá and Putumayo, where landslides are also reported. Plantings of the 1997/98 second season cereal crops, as well as the area planted to other food and cash crops, were reduced in most parts of the country. Plantings of rainfed crops were significantly reduced principally because of farmers’ fears of losing their crops. Prospects are uncertain for planting of the 1998 first season cereal crops to commence in April as present conditions are forecast to persist for the next few weeks.


Planting of the 1998 wheat crop, mostly grown in the highlands, has started under generally normal conditions while sowing of maize (yellow) and paddy is underway mainly in the coastal provinces of Manabi and Las Guayas, as well as in the central and southern provinces of Los Rios and Loja. Torrential rains and flooding, and isolated landslides, were reported in November/December in all the coastal provinces and in the interior provinces of Bolivar, Cotopaxi and Los Rios, resulting in a high number of casualties, and severe damage to housing, infrastructure and to the agricultural sector. Cereal as well as other food and important cash crops, such as coffee, cocoa, bananas and sugar cane have been seriously damaged. An assessment of the situation has not yet been made. The livestock sector and several shrimp farms have also suffered. A state of emergency has been declared by the Government and a request for assistance to the international community has been made.


Planting of the 1998 cereal and potato crops is underway. Heavy rains have been reported since December all over the country, resulting in flooding and landslides in the northern, central and south-eastern parts of the country. The rains became even more intensive in late January and are particularly affecting the large rice producing areas of the northern coastal province of Piura. Bananas, other food and cash crops, like cotton, grow in this area. Further north, in the province of Tumbes, heavy rains were also reported and could affect bananas in this province. Serious damage has been suffered by housing and infrastructure in the northern departments of Tumbes, Piura, Lambayeque, Cajamarca and La Libertad, and the central department of Ancash. In the south, the departments of Arequipa, Ayacucho, Apumirac, and Huanvelica were also affected by the heavy rains, as well as the interior departments of Cusco and Puno. Emergency measures have been adopted by the Government and a request for international assistance has been made. Intensive precipitation is also reported in the northern mountain range but with no damage to the important potato crops grown at these altitudes.


Abnormal heavy rains in December resulted in overflowing of the Paraguay river, thus affecting the provinces of Concepción, San Pedro, Presidente Hayes, Alto Paraguay and particularly the provinces of Asunción, including the metropolitan area, and Neembucu in the southern part of the country. Severe damage to housing and infrastructure is reported and about 60 000 people are estimated to be directly affected by the floods. An assessment of possible damage to the agricultural sector has not been made yet. An appeal for international assistance has been made by the Government.


Dry and warm conditions are reported along the Caribbean coast and in the western parts, while near normal weather conditions are reported in the rest of the country, thus benefiting fieldwork in preparation for planting of the 1998 coarse grain and paddy crops to be started from April.
This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): [email protected]) for further information if required.
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