FAO asks Central America to adapt agriculture to future climate with El Niño’s arrival

By Giovanna Ferullo M.

Panama City, May 16 (EFE).- Central America will experience a “moderate to severe” El Niño weather phenomenon that will worsen the local drought and the food insecurity situation for millions of people, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned, urging the region to use technology to transform its agriculture and adapt it to the “climate of the future.”

Central America has “great agricultural potential” and phenomena like El Niño pose “a challenge and an opportunity,” the subregional coordinator for Mesoamerica and FAO representative in Panama and Costa Rica, Brazil’s Adoniram Sanches Peraci, told EFE.

El Niño “is a well-known phenomenon. There’s technology, prior information” and its consequences can be dealt with on several fronts, including providing access to more productive seed varieties than those currently used in the Central American Dry Corridor, he said.

“There’s a good basis of information (in the region) to look for new types of agriculture linked to future climate,” he added.

Sanches emphasized that the effects of climate phenomena like El Niño “are becoming more acute” in areas like Central America, where “there is a neglect of agriculture, which has lost importance on the economic agenda.”

This is reflected in the fact that “public spending on agriculture fell over the past two decades from 3 percent to an average of 1.5 percent” in the region, according to figures from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, known as ECLAC or CEPAL, and the FAO.

“Ninety percent of the farmers use seeds without any genetic basis, they don’t use fertilizer on the land, the cattle produce two liters (of milk per day, i.e. 0.53 gallons) when they could put out 10-15 liters (2.6-4 gallons),” he said.

El Niño is characterized by abnormal ocean surface temperature rises in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, a situation that results in extreme climate events such as droughts, flooding and storms all over the globe.

The FAO “already issued an alert about the presence of El Niño, after three years of La Niña, starting in May-July” 2023, and “ever more precise” technological tools indicate that there is a “90 percent” probability that it will be “moderate to severe.”

This expectation has sparked “much concern, many government initiatives to prepare” in Central America, especially in the Dry Corridor, where the “lands suffer more intensely” from the consequences of El Niño, he said.

The Dry Corridor is a zone running through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where more than 10 million people live, many of whom make their livings as small farmers of basic grains.

Some 80 percent of these small producers live in poverty and many have felt forced to migrate away from the Dry Corridor, where long periods of drought followed by intense rainfall are common.

Panama’s Dry Arch stretch of coastline, which includes the southwestern part of the country, is the area of the country that receives the least rainfall each year and is considered part of the Central American Dry Corridor although it is not directly connected to it, according to the FAO.

The drought in this area in 2023 has been harsh and has lasted longer than normal, the vice president of the Cattle Raisers Association (Anagan), Ramiro Barrios, told EFE on a cattle ranch in Panama’s Azuero Peninsula with dry and yellowed grass and emaciated cattle all around.

“All our food reserves have been used up, the water in the pastures is running out … We want to see what our options are in these dry weeks to come, to be able to get ready and not let the same thing happen to us next year,” he said.

EFE gf-cl-bv/mt/bp

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