Aug 182010

Source: International Press Service

By Edgardo Ayala

Adverse climatic conditions and weather-related disasters are damaging crops in El Salvador and neighbouring countries in Central America, aggravating the food vulnerability that the region already faces.

In late 2009, for the first time ever, Guatemala was included on a worldwide list of countries in crisis requiring external assistance, compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

In September and October of that year, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate phenomenon led to a shortage in rainfall throughout Central America, which negatively affected the planting of grain and bean crops in areas of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to the FAO report.

Then, in November, Hurricane Ida struck Central America, causing severe damage to agricultural infrastructure in parts of the region. In El Salvador, heavy rains left 198 people dead and 15,000 homeless, in addition to 239 million dollars in losses and damages.

“All of my efforts were destroyed. Only a small part of my corn crop was saved,” Isidro Rivas, 48, a farmer in the village of Izcanal, 45 kilometres east of San Salvador, told IPS.

The torrential rains unleashed by Hurricane Ida flooded his three hectares of corn, sorghum, pepper and papaya crops.

El Salvador and Guatemala were battered by the force of nature once again in late May, this time by the passage of Tropical Storm Agatha.

Losses in the agricultural sector have been estimated at six million dollars in El Salvador, according to official figures. However, the full economic impact of the storm has yet to be calculated, although it will be massive, stated Alexander Segovia, the technical secretary to the president of El Salvador.

“Whether it is flooding or drought, extreme weather conditions always hurt agricultural yields, especially since approximately 60 percent of grain crops in El Salvador are grown on hillsides,” Edgar Cruz of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) told IPS.

El Salvador, which never produces enough garden vegetable crops to fully meet domestic demand, will now have to increase its imports by 30 percent, according to estimates from the Salvadoran Chamber of Agriculture and Agribusiness (CAMAGRO), quoted in La Prensa Gráfica.

CAMAGRO reported that at the beginning of the year, El Salvador imported six out of every 10 garden vegetables consumed in the country, but now, because of the damage caused by Agatha, it will have to import nine out of 10.

This has already led to rising vegetable prices in the country’s stores and markets.

“The most practical way of measuring the level of food security is by determining whether a country is self-sufficient in the production of a particular product, in other words, if it produces a sufficient amount to satisfy domestic consumption,” said Cruz.

The outlook for agricultural production in the near future is not encouraging. An extremely active storm season is expected for both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, in accordance with the updated forecast released in early June by Colorado State University in the United States.

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