GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 

SPECIAL REPORT

EL NINO’S IMPACT ON CROP PRODUCTION IN LATIN AMERICA

25 November 1997




 

OVERVIEW

Crop production in Latin America is particularly vulnerable to the effects of El Niño. The phenomenon’s early manifestations in 1997 have affected the first season cereal and bean crops in most Central American and Caribbean countries. On average, losses for 1997 crops in the sub-region are estimated at about between 15 and 20 percent as compared with the previous year, but losses in several countries have been substantially higher. The second season crops, currently being harvested, have been affected first by excessive rains in September, typical of the hurricane season, and since then by abnormally dry weather associated with El Niño. Prospects of recovery from previously incurred losses are almost nil for most countries. In addition, a serious risk exists for the planting of the 1998 first season cereal crops, beginning in March, should dry weather extend to March/April.

In South America, in the Andean countries, planting of the 1998 main season crops is underway. The bulk of the 1997 cereal crops in these countries had been collected when El Niño’s early effects were felt. In the southern areas of the sub-region, however, plantings of the 1997 wheat crop were significantly reduced in the main producing countries because of excess rainfall. Harvesting is presently underway while sowing of the 1998 maize crop has started. For the sub-region as a whole, precipitation and temperature anomalies prevail and constitute a threat to the crops. The outcome will be largely determined by the development of El Niño phenomenon whose strongest impact is expected in the next few months.

The situation by sub-region is as follows:

CENTRAL AMERICA (INCLUDING THE CARIBBEAN)

Besides the 1997/98 first season maize crop losses, caused by El Niño’s early effects, considerable damage has been also incurred to the paddy and bean crops. Growing conditions have been predominantly dry for the 1997/98 second season crops, and drier than normal conditions, particularly for Central American countries, are anticipated in the months ahead which could seriously jeopardize planting of the 1998 first season cereal crops.

Costa Rica

Light rains in early November benefited the developing crops which have been affected by dry weather since September. The only crop with chances of recovering from first season losses would be beans, a staple in the country’s diet, as the bulk of the annual output comes from the second season crop; even then, however, production would not be enough to meet domestic requirements. The risk of forest fires is likely to increase should dry weather persist. The fishery sector continues to be affected by the abnormally high sea temperatures. The Government is taking action to protect the agriculture, livestock and fishery sectors from a worse El Niño-related impact expected in the coming months.

Cuba

Irregular and ill-distributed rains, combined with elevated temperatures have been reported in the last two months, but with no relevant effect on crops. Abnormally wet conditions due to El Niño are expected in the months ahead. Intensive precipitation, a consequence too of the reactivated hurricane season, is expected in the next few weeks, particularly in the western parts of the country, and to a lesser extent in the centre and in the east. Harvesting of the sugar cane crop is starting earlier than usual in order to avoid part of the effects of El Niño.

Dominican Republic

Well-distributed normal rains since late September, particularly abundant in the south and south-western areas, typical of the hurricane season, have brought much needed moisture relief to the rainfed crops and contributed to replenish water reservoirs, some of them at critically low levels, for planting of the main irrigated paddy crop to be started in December. More rains are forecast in the weeks ahead, specially in the area from Montecristi in the north-west to Samaná in the north-east. Crops and pastures have been affected by almost 9 months of dry weather attributed to El Niño-related effects. The Government is involved in the purchase and sale of agricultural food items. Price increases have been reported in some markets during the prolonged dry period.

El Salvador

Irregular and ill-distributed rains in the first half of October, and dry weather since then, have been reported, but with no effect so far on the developing crops. Only a modest recovery is expected from the heavy losses (125 000 tons) incurred to the first season maize crop, the main cereal. Supplies and prices of maize and other basic grains have, however, remained stable due to the prompt action taken by the Government in the management of strategic reserves and to increase imports. Technical assistance, combined with financial concessions of various types, as part of El Niño contingency plans, have been provided through the Ministry of Agriculture and other public institutions to the affected rural population.
 
 

Guatemala

Hurricane rains and heavy flooding in late September in the south-central parts of the country and dry weather since then all over the country continue to affect the developing second season cereal and bean crops. Only a slight chance exists for a partial recovery from first season crop losses (about 200 000 tons of maize). To cope with the worst impact from the phenomenon which is expected in the months ahead, various Ministries and institutions are adopting protective and emergency measures which include the financing of small irrigation systems, improvements of rural roads, control of strategic grain reserves, improvement in the dissemination of weather information, and other precautions.

Haiti

Normal rains have resumed in the past few months and seasonal storms are expected in the weeks ahead. Some recovery from the second season crops, particularly the bean crop, is expected; however, this will not make up for the heavy losses incurred to the first season crops, severely affected by a six-month drought which caused, on a conservative basis, a 30 to 40 percent reduction from last year’s cereal outputs. The food supply situation remains tight and international assistance is being provided.

Honduras

Dry weather prevails, particularly in the southern areas of Choluteca, Valle and Francisco de Morazán and Paraíso, which were already seriously affected by El Niño’s early impact and where a state of emergency has been recently declared. However, no significant effect on the crops is expected at a national level as the localized losses would be more than offset by production increases elsewhere, principally in the main producing areas of the country. In order to cope with the dry conditions expected in the months ahead, the Government has initiated a series of protective measures that include the construction of small irrigation systems and temporary reservoirs, the drilling of wells and sale of water pumps.

Mexico

Despite damage to rainfed crops in the central maize growing belt, caused by 6 to 8 weeks of dry weather, and recent localized damage in the south-western areas due to hurricane rains and flooding, a bumper spring/summer maize crop is forecast. Other crops such as coffee, coconut and lemon plantations were also affected by the rains. The Government declared a state of emergency in the affected areas and assistance was subsequently provided. Present dry weather is benefiting maize harvesting operations. With respect to the wheat crop, storm rains in September helped fill reservoirs to adequate levels thus helping planting of the 1997/98 wheat crop which is currently underway. Light to moderate rain in October benefited the coarse grain crops grown in the north-eastern states, which have been affected by dry weather for the last 4 years. Satisfactory outputs are anticipated.

Nicaragua

A recently-completed FAO/WFP Mission confirmed the extent of the damage caused to first season crops by El Niño-related drought in some 27 rural municipalities, mostly on the Pacific coast. Maize was heavily affected and a sharp drop in output is estimated. Normal rains resumed in October, benefiting the developing second season crops, currently being harvested; however, prospects of recovery from first season crop losses are poor, as production increases in the non-affected areas and enlarged plantings in the second season and those anticipated in the third season ("apante") will probably not be sufficient to offset the losses incurred.

Panama

Light rains around mid-October benefited standing crops but were too late for any significant recovery. The main affected crops include paddy, maize, beans and roots. The fishery sector has been also affected and a decline in the fish catch is reported. Pastures have also suffered and a high mortality of livestock is reported. A request for international assistance has been recently made. Predictions point to dry weather in the months ahead.

Belize

No serious impact on crops has been so far reported.

SOUTH AMERICA

In the southern areas of the sub-region, harvesting of the 1997 wheat crop is underway. Unseasonably heavy rains in October have affected the crop in Brazil as well as in parts of Argentina but the situation there has improved in November. Planting of the 1997/98 main season coarse grain crops in some of the Andean countries has started. The outcome of these crops will be largely determined by the development of El Niño whose strongest impact is expected from now on for the next few months. In the north-western parts of the sub-region, high temperatures and dry weather prevail and are forecast to continue for the next few months. If this forecast materializes, planting of the 1998 crops to be started from March would be affected.

Argentina

Drier weather in some parts in early November benefited harvesting of the 1997 wheat crop and 1997/98 maize crop plantings. Wheat harvesting and maize planting operations were delayed by excessive rains in October attributed to the El Niño phenomenon. Localized flooding in northern Argentina has been reported. The crops have been spared of major damage so far, but there is a risk of a fungus outbreak for wheat and a reduction in the area planted to maize should the excessive rains resume, as they are presently forecast. Early predictions point to a decline in wheat production from last year’s record, mainly as a consequence of reduced plantings ( from 7 to 6 million hectares) associated with the early effects of El Niño, but output should nevertheless remain above average.

Bolivia

In September, torrential rains and flooding, attributed to El Niño, in the south-western department of Sucre resulted in some casualties and heavy damage to infrastructure. A state of emergency for the affected area was declared by the Government. Normal weather conditions in October favoured planting of the 1998 main season cereal crops. These crops could be, however, seriously threatened by El Niño as latest forecasts indicate that by year’s end there could be heavy flooding in the east and serious drought in the high plateaux of the country. These anomalies are also forecast to extend into next year. Protective measures are being taken by the Government.

Brazil

Torrential rains and flooding for the last five weeks in southern Brazil, particularly in the major producing states of Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, have seriously affected the 1997 wheat crop and delayed planting of the 1998 maize crop. The rains are attributed to El Niño and more rains are forecast in the months ahead, which could present a serious threat to the developing maize crop. Major coffee growing south-central states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Sao Paolo, Rio Janeiro and Spirito Santo, which had been previously affected by prolonged dry weather, have benefited from light to moderate rains in October. The north-east of Brazil is beginning to feel the effects related to El Niño. Below-normal rains have been reported in the last few weeks and drier weather is forecast in the months ahead. Technical advice is given by the Government to the rural population on how to cope with the effects of El Niño (e.g., use of alternative crops, dissemination of weather forecasts and mapping of risk zones, information on best time for planting, etc.).

Chile

Growing conditions are adequate for the 1997 wheat crop, about to be harvested, as well as for the 1998 maize crop, currently being planted, despite torrential rains and some localized flooding in late September, particularly in the north of the country, which caused relative damage to crops. In October, ocean surface temperatures showed a tendency to decrease; however, more abundant rains, attributed to El Niño, are forecast in the next few months for the northern areas, which could affect horticultural crops and the important foreign exchange earning fruit plantations. The cereal crops grown in the central regions of the country (from Region V through VIII), are also threatened by the intensive rains which are forecast through March.

Colombia

Light rains across most regions in the second half of October, the result of the reactivation of the hurricane season, brought relief after six weeks of abnormally low precipitation, particularly in the north-west of the country. Fruits and vegetables benefited from the rains, but the outlook is poor for cereals, particularly maize, and cash crops as abnormal weather conditions are forecast to persist in the months ahead. In addition, some institutions in the agricultural sector are concerned about the availability of cereal seeds for planting in March/April in 1998. The Government is actively engaged in providing technical advice to farmers on how to mitigate the impact of El Niño and is stressing the need to build up seed stocks. The quality of the coffee crop is also affected, as well as the condition of pastures. Some provinces are reporting a decrease in milk production. Forest fires continue to be reported in the Cundinamarca, the south-western Nariño areas and around the capital.

Ecuador

Intensive rainfall is reported all along the Equatorian coast, from Esmeraldas in the north to the province of Guayas in the south. Some areas have also been affected by high tides. A state of emergency has been declared in some areas and international assistance is being provided. Localized damage is reported to sugar plantations and the important banana crop. Planting of the 1998 maize crop, the main cereal, which is currently underway, has been so far spared any major damage. Some localized flooding of paddy crops is reported. A contingency plan has been prepared by the Government to help the population cope with the

potentially adverse effects of El Niño, which are forecast for December onwards. This includes technical advice to farmers on fieldwork protective measures and the use of alternative crops, public works such as the cleaning of canals and country roads, the strengthening of bridges, and the repair of the sewage system in some municipalities. Information has been disseminated on preventive health and sanitary measures all over the country.

Peru

The abnormally high sea surface temperatures caused by El Niño showed a tendency to decline in some sections of the southern coasts in October. The agricultural sector has not been seriously affected so far, as the bulk of the 1997 main season cereal crops had been collected when the early effects of El Niño became manifest. However, the outcome of the 1998 crops, currently being planted, will criticaly depend on the development of El Niño. The Government continues to be actively engaged in the programme of preventive and emergency measures at national, regional and local levels, in anticipation of a worse impact in the next months as indicated in latest weather forecasts. In the north, where most of the irrigated paddy crop is grown, intensive precipitation has been reported and further abundant rains are forecast. Public works are being carried out, which include the cleaning and repair of canals, control of river banks, and other infrastructure repair works. In the south and the highlands, where drought is anticipated, a programme for the drilling of water wells has been initiated. Risk maps of the areas likely to be affected and educational material, combined with community awareness campaigns, have been prepared and distributed.

Venezuela

Light rains since late October, the consequence of the reactivated hurricane season, ended a six-week period of significant dryness in some areas, particularly in the north-west. Elsewhere in the country, weather conditions continue to favour planting of the 1997/98 paddy crop and fieldwork operations of the developing maize crop, currently being harvested. Growing conditions are also good for vegetables, fruit and roots. The coastal and some central areas should benefit from normal conditions in the months ahead, while dry conditions and elevated temperatures are forecast in the south-eastern parts of the country, but no serious threat to the crops is being posed so far.



 
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): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.
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