Major crop losses in Central America due to El Nino

Farmers require agricultural support following second year of severe dry weather.

Prolonged dry weather associated with the El Nino phenomenon has severely reduced this year’s cereal outputs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, putting a large numbers of farmers in need of agricultural assistance as the subregion tries to recover amidst ongoing dryness, the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Sept. 14.

This is the second consecutive year that the region's main season cereal harvest has been negatively affected by severe dry weather related to El Nino.

The Central American Agricultural Council — headed by agriculture ministers of the subregion — has declared a state of alert after hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers have suffered the partial or total loss of their crops planted for the main grain season that runs from May to September, FAO said.

Early estimates from Central America's main de prima harvest suggest declines of as much as 60% of maize and 80% of beans due to dry weather caused by El Nino, a weather phenomenon characterized by abnormal warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific ocean.

El Nino-related dry spells are known to delay planting, reduce planting areas and stifle crop development.

With hundreds of thousands of families affected by severe food losses, the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have begun distributing agricultural aid packages, including seeds, fertilizers and irrigation pumps, to help farmers recover as much as possible in the second planting season, now under way.

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Losses

At an estimated 3 million metric tons across the subregion, this year’s maize harvest is expected to be far below average and some 8% below last year’s already compromised harvest, FAO reported.

Production declines are expected to be particularly sharp in El Salvador and Honduras, which both saw 60% of their maize crops destroyed by the irregular rainfall earlier this year. In El Salvador alone, losses are estimated at $28 million in seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and land preparation. Honduras additionally saw 80% of its beans perish.

In Guatemala’s most affected areas, some 80% of crops are estimated to have been lost, including 55,000 mt of maize and 11,500 mt of beans, affecting more than 150,000 families, FAO said.

In Nicaragua, early estimates suggest 50% of the total planted area has been damaged, with total crop losses in the country’s most severely affected regions.

Central America’s “Dry Corridor” is a semi-arid region stretching from the low areas of the Pacific watershed through the foothills of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and parts of Costa Rica. It covers nearly one-third of the Central American territory and is characterized by recurrent droughts.

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