“The dry season is coming,” one farmer from Belize explained. “So, yes, we are very concerned that this will compound the severe effects of this year’s drought further. It means there will be little vegetation and grass for our cattle to feed on. We experienced some rain in the last few weeks, but the heat is still extremely intense, to the point where new-born calves die if not taken to shade immediately after birth”.
There has now been a drought for around six months
Below-average rainfall of early 2019 marked the beginning of this years’ drought. A drought which has been the most prolonged in 40 years, exacerbated by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO); a climate phenomenon which creates extreme and irregular weather patterns in the tropics and subtropics.
There have now been eight plus weeks without any rain and with the region in now in the official dry season, international aid agencies are undoubtedly worried, and a humanitarian effort is underway.
The effects will be long lasting
The plight of Central and South American people is likely to be long and devastating. The knock-on effects of hunger and disease is often reported but too often overlooked. Whether or not you think there are more pressing concerns than climate change to digest in the news; it’s hard to ignore the impact a natural disaster in one of the main farming areas of the world could have on our daily lives.
“The effects of this drought are not really realized to its full extent. There will be a lot of suffering in the coming months in the sugarcane industry where there is very little to harvest, this will reverberate into other industries which feed off the cane harvest. The initial damage is in the report which affects mostly the grain farmers, but the more serious effects are coming yet”. – Belize farmer
In Belize alone, the initial assessment suggests the damage to sugarcane crops is approx. 30% with a shortfall in cane production of circa 900,000 tons. Corn harvest in some regions have seen a complete loss. Soybean harvest has also been affected which has a knock-on effect on poultry production as soybean is used in chicken feed.
The outlook for Guatemala is worse still, with some crops showing an 80% loss and food insecurity affecting 1.4 million people. Half a million of those children. Guatemala ranks 5th for infant malnutrition.
Some countries in the region can fall back on stock previously harvested to mitigate any immediate local shortages. But reserves will run out and once depleted, those families at their most vulnerable could perish. On the other side of this disaster is the shortfall in the export market which will hurt these country’s economies.
A well-known challenge: access to water
Access to water for drinking and irrigation in Central and Southern parts of America has always been a problem. But drought is now experienced on a yearly basis, with countries in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) and Dry Corridor (Corredor Seco) particularly hard hit. A partial state of emergency in Belize was declared in September with crop losses estimated at around $50 Million. Livestock losses will only add to this figure.
Belize, Honduras and Guatemala have reached out to international aid agencies and funding institutions to provide support to their farming communities. Further hope has come in the shape of the central bank which announced that it would sanction the extension of loans to farmers for agricultural equipment, like irrigation pumps, tanks, etc. Tax and duty exemption for these product imports would also be given. But clearly this is only a short-term fix for an otherwise natural, recurring disaster that could leave families and businesses in ruin now and for many years to come.
Adaptation and mitigation…
Unfortunately, for those living in the Central and South American regions, this years’ phenomenon is likely to become a regular occurrence. And there is certainly no quick fix. Urgent action is required on a global, regional and individual farm level to reduce impacts, help prepare for future events and equip farmers to cope.
It might seem hard to be positive, but where did negativity get anyone? Right now at a global and regional climate level there is a global climate movement gaining traction. Global climate strikes demanding action to change policies and encouraging the switch to cleaner, renewable energies are ensuring that human induced climate change is no longer ignorable.
But for individual farmers, feeling the full force of these droughts right now, adaptation to this new normal through changes to agricultural practice may help. Utilising more appropriate irrigation methods (both for cost and environmental impact) will help crops grow for longer into the dry seasons and more efficient application of this water will help conserve this valuable resource.
At Futurepump we are currently searching for distribution partners in Southern and Central America. If you are interested in distributing Futurepump solar pumps for us, please get in touch via our distribution form.