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Special Alert begins to add up agricultural devastation after hurricane Mitch

FAO has issued a Special Alert for the four Central American countries devastated by hurricane Mitch - Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. The hardest hit - Honduras and Nicaragua - are among the poorest countries in Latin America.

Good first-season crops in the area this year, had "raised hopes of a recovery in output, after the poor El Niño-affected crop last year," the Alert said. But now, "These hopes have vanished as fields under foodcrops, mostly cultivated by small farmers, have been washed away in every country. Banana, coffee and sugar plantations, which are vital sources of foreign exchange, have been devastated in several countries".

In Honduras, every important coffee-producing area in the country has been affected, with warehouses and storerooms of the major exporters inundated with flood waters. Early estimates put losses at 650 000 bags , or over 20 percent of this year's expected coffee production.

Planting of this year's main season cereal crops - including about 80 percent of annual maize production - was under way when the hurricane struck. Huge losses have been reported, but no detailed assessments of the damage have yet been possible. The bean crop, another staple in the people's diet, was severely affected, as were the banana and oil palm crops and the citrus and other fruit crops.

In Nicaragua, about one-third of the 6 million people in the country are estimated to have been directly affected by hurricane Mitch. "Preliminary indications are that 30 percent of the coffee crop has been lost," the Alert said. As far as foodcrops are concerned, "the losses sustained have ended all hopes of a recovery from last year's severely drought-affected crops. Second-season maize - about 15 to 20 percent of annual production - was being planted when the hurricane struck. The bean and sorghum crops already in the ground - both important staples - represented about 50 and 80 percent respectively of total annual production. All of these crops have been seriously affected.

Guatemala and El Salvador were less severely affected, though they too sustained heavy losses to life, infrastructure and agriculture. In Guatemala, preliminary official estimates confirm extensive damage to coffee, tobacco and banana plantations, according to the Alert. Coffee losses are put at about 15 percent of the crop. Harvesting of the important first-season maize crop, and planting of the second-season crop, were under way when the storm struck and have been severely affected by the floods.

In El Salvador, harvesting of first-season crops was well advanced when the hurricane struck and some planting of second-season crops had started. The Special Alert says that "early estimates indicate that possibly as much 80 percent of maize crop" in affected areas has been lost. Considerable, but as yet unquantified damage, is also reported to the bean, sorghum, coffee and sugar cane crops.

Go to the Special Alert

11 November 1998

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