ARGENTINA (18 February)

Harvesting of the 1997 wheat crop has been recently completed following some disruption caused by the intensive rains. The crop is reported in good conditions in the southern parts of the key producing province of Buenos Aires, while crop quality problems and diseases are reported in the western parts of this province and northern and central La Pampa. In the northern sections of the wheat producing belt, in the provinces of Cordoba, Santa Fe and Entre Rios, where precipitation has been heaviest, possible lower yields are expected. Production is tentatively estimated at 13.9 million tonnes, compared to last year’s record 16 million tonnes, but nevertheless well above the last 5-year average. The abundant rains, by contrast, have largely benefited the development of the 1998 maize crop, to be harvested from late February, and latest official forecasts point out to a record 16.5 million tonnes. A bumper sorghum crop of about 3.6 million tonnes is also expected.

BOLIVIA (15 February)

Generally dry conditions prevail in the highlands and valleys, thus 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 and in various other parts during January. 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 which should reach their peak in the first months of 1998. Adopted 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.

Wheat imports in marketing year 1997/98 are provisionally forecast to increase from last year’s receipts of 330 000 tonnes to about 375 000 tonnes.

BRAZIL (16 February)

Output of the recently harvested 1997 wheat crop is tentatively estimated at 2.7 million tonnes, 19 percent below the 1996 level but still above average. The decline has been mainly due to the torrential rains which for continuing weeks fell on 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 key producing areas. Production is forecast to decline considerably from 1997 high production level, mainly as a consequence of reduced plantings. This is principally the result of farmers’ decision to switch to alternative crops attracted by the higher prices relative to maize. In the north-east of the country, where sowing of the 1998 maize crop should start from March, the outlook is poor as dry conditions associated with El Niño have resumed following some rains in January which helped partly restore much needed moisture to the soil. Farmers feel uncertain in their planting intentions, as drier than normal conditions are forecast to remain until April. The majority are subsistence farmers living off their small crops of maize, beans and cassava. Pastures are also being affected by the significant moisture deficit.

CHILE (2 February)

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 tentatively forecast at 1.3 million tonnes, compared to 1.6 million tonnes in 1997, but still near the last 5-year average. In December, below-normal rains were registered practically all over the country, with considerably higher temperatures relative to the previous months, raising the concern for forest fires hazard in certain areas. Generally normal weather conditions are reported in January, thus improving the outlook for the 1998 maize crop to be harvested from March. A recovery from last year’s drought affected crop is expected.

Wheat imports in 1997/98 marketing year (December/November) are forecast to decrease from last year’s receipts of 750 000 tonnes to cover production losses.

COLOMBIA (3 February)

Abnormally warm and dry conditions persist in the northwestern parts of the country, where about nine weeks of moisture deficit have accumulated. 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 low and water and electric power rationing measures have been adopted 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 all over the country. Plantings of rainfed crops were significantly reduced principally because of farmers’ fears of losing their crops. Prospects are uncertain for the planting of the 1998 first season cereal crops which should start from April as present conditions are expected to persist for the next few weeks.

ECUADOR (18 February)

Planting of the 1998 wheat crop, mostly grown in the highlands, has started under wetter than normal conditions, while sowing of maize (yellow) and paddy is being disrupted due to adverse weather in the coastal provinces of Manabi and Las Guayas, as well as in the central and southern provinces of Los Rios and Loja respectively. Torrential rains and flooding, and isolated landslides, are reported since November in all the coastal provinces, and since late December in the interior provinces of Bolivar, Cotopaxi and Los Rios, resulting in a high number of casualties and severe damage to housing and infrastructure and to the agricultural sector. In some parts, cereal as well as other food and important cash crops, such as coffee, cacao, bananas and sugar cane are reported to be seriously damaged. A detailed assessment of the situation has not yet been made, but it is reported that about 105 000 hectares of foodcrops grown along the coast have been severely affected, while heavy losses have been inflicted to the maize crop grown in the highlands. The livestock sector and several shrimp farms have also suffered from the intensity of the phenomenon. In some sections it is reported that no water purifying chemicals was available, posing a serious threat to public health. A state of emergency has been declared by the Government and a request for assistance to the international community has been launched. Wheat imports in the 1998 marketing year (January/December) are expected to be about 485 000 tonnes, similar to 1997.

PARAGUAY (2 February)

Abnormal heavy rains in December have 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. Previous abundant rains in October/November had been beneficial to the developing wheat and planting of the maize crops, and satisfactory outputs were expected. An appeal for international assistance has been made by the Government.

PERU (12 February)

The outlook is uncertain for planting of the 1998 cereal and potato crops currently underway. Heavy rains are 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 have become even more intensive in late January and are particularly affecting the large rice producing areas of the northern coastal province of Piura. Important banana plantations and other food and cash crops, like cotton, are also grown in this area. Further north, in the province of Tumbes, heavy rains are also reported and could affect the important banana plantations also grown in this province. Serious damage has been incurred to 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. Landslides are reported with heavy casualties. 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 in these altitudes.

URUGUAY (5 February)

Harvesting of the 1997 wheat crop has been completed and a satisfactory output, close to the 1996 record, has been collected. Harvesting of the 1997/98 maize crop is about to start and an above-average output is tentatively forecast as the crop has benefited from adequate humidity at planting and during the last few weeks. Harvesting of the important 1998 irrigated paddy drop is due to start from March and an aboveaverage production, near to 1997 record, is tentatively forecast. Farmers have been attracted by the expanding exports to neighbouring countries.

VENEZUELA (5 February)

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.