Latin American farmers get back on their feet

Farmer Ethiel Brieones lost everything in 1998 when the weather phenomenon El Niño hit hard in Ecuador. Now he is getting back on his feet (FAO/K.Iversen)


"Now I produce again," farmer Ethiel Brieones, 60, says with a smile as he looks over his land. Three years ago he grew cacao, coconuts and lemons on his two very fertile hectares. But in 1998 the weather phenomenon El Niño hit hard in the Manabi Province of Ecuador where Mr Brieones lives with his wife and five children.

"It rained every day for 10 months. Water and mud came down from the mountains," says Mr Brieones, pointing to the hills behind his farm in the village of Sitio Mejía. "It almost reached the windows of our house. All my trees died."

All the water canals in the area were filled with infertile mud that also covered hectare after hectare of land. The rain was followed by months of drought, and Mr Brieones' field -- along with fields in the rest of the province -- was left grey and hard as cement. Many farmers lost all they had, and a year of very low production followed.

But now Mr Brieones' two hectares are green again, covered with papayas, peppers, beans, bananas and maize. In response to the reduced soil fertility and motivated by a project initiated in1999 in the province by FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), Mr Brieone and 530 other farmers have changed crops and cultivation methods. As a result, last year he had a very good harvest and was able to produce more food for his family (For more about the SPFS project in Ecuador, click here).



Before El Niño hit, Mr Brieones could sell parts of his surplus on the local market. Now he produces primarily to meet his family's food needs. With the help of the SPFS project, he has recently installed an irrigation system on a small plot of his land, enabling him to produce more and better crops. In a few weeks his first harvest of green peppers will be ready from the irrigated field. "It looks as if it is going to be a good harvest," he says and points to the plants weighed down by the bulging peppers. He wants to sell the peppers, so that next year he might be able to irrigate an even bigger plot of land.

State of Food and Agriculture 2001

Mr Brieones' situation reflects overall conditions in Latin America as presented in The State of Food and Agriculture 2001 (SOFA 2001), FAO's annual report on current developments affecting world agriculture.

"Among the developing country regions, the strongest performance in 1999 was recorded in Latin America and the Caribbean, where growth in agricultural output strengthened significantly to an estimated 4.6 percent, after a growth rate of only 1.8 percent in 1998," says the report, which reviews recent agricultural performance at world and regional levels. The Latin American growth rate in 1999 was twice the worldwide rate of 2.3 percent. Brazil, Ecuador and Peru performed especially well in 1999.

Other interesting findings in SOFA 2001 concern the future of the agricultural trading environment, the costs of hunger and the economic impact of transboundary plant pests and animal diseases.


SOFA 2001, which includes country information on CD-ROM costs US$ 49. To order, click here
Press release on SOFA 2001

11 September 2001

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