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Climate Change to Hit Central America's Food Crops

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Climate change is expected to reduce maize and bean harvests across Central America, leading to economic losses of more than $120 million a year by the 2020s and threatening the incomes of around 1 million small farmers, says a new scientific study.

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JL A (282)
Tuesday October 9, 2012, 11:07 am
Climate change to hit Central America's food crops

Tue, 9 Oct 2012 08:34 GMT

Source: alertnet // Megan Rowling

A farmer shows a maize cob damaged by heavy rains in the Suchitoto department of Cuscatlan, El Salvador, Oct. 17, 2011. REUTERS/Luis Galdamez

By Megan Rowling

LONDON (AlertNet) - Climate change is expected to reduce maize and bean harvests across Central America, leading to economic losses of more than $120 million a year by the 2020s and threatening the incomes of around 1 million small farmers, says a new scientific study.

Researchers from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) examined how the region's two most important food crops would be affected by higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

"Even with our most conservative estimates, it's clear that climate change could transform the agricultural landscape across Central America," Anton Eitzinger, a CIAT climate scientist and lead author of the report, said in a statement. "Conditions are already tough there; it's one of the poorest and most vulnerable parts of Latin America."

In some parts of El Salvador and Honduras that have poor soil, where much farming takes place, maize production could drop by around 30 percent by the 2020s, and on poor soils in Guatemala and Nicaragua, it could fall by around 11 percent, the study warns.

For beans, Honduras will be the worst affected by 2020, with a production decline of 15 percent, followed by El Salvador at 8 percent, Nicaragua at 6 percent, and Guatemala at 4 percent, the study says. In all four countries, bean production is expected to fall by up to 25 percent by 2050.

But in financial terms, the estimated annual losses for maize are five times higher than for beans, topping $100 million. The combined figure for both crops - close to $123 million - equals around 30 percent of their current values.

The report, part of a project led by the charity Catholic Relief Services, will be presented at a meeting of Central American donors, policy makers and development organisations in San Salvador on Thursday.

The study forecasts the effects of a 1 degree Celsius temperature rise by the 2020s, and a 2 degree Celsius rise by the 2050s, under a "business as usual" scenario for greenhouse gas emissions. Minimum and maximum daily temperatures will increase and water deficits will get worse due to less rainfall and higher evapotranspiration rates, causing heat stress to plants, it predicts.

The region's dry season could be extended and the "canicula", a short dry spell in July and August, could be more severe, clashing with a crucial stage of the maize production cycle, the organisations said.

Rains could be reduced during the bean planting season in September, with higher temperatures affecting flowering and seed production. The wet months of October and November are likely to see even more severe downpours, like those that destroyed crops and infrastructure in the region in 2011.

Widespread soil degradation will make the problems with changing weather worse, the study says. Farmers working on poor soils will experience greater losses than those with good-quality land, it predicts.


Unusually, the researchers downscaled the climate models they used to small areas of between 1 sq km and 5 sq km, enabling much more detailed analysis of different terrains and local climate variations than other studies have provided.

Growing maize and beans will become pretty much impossible in some "hotspots", they concluded, whereas in other places, farmers could continue with those crops if they take action to adapt, such as using rainwater more efficiently and keeping soil in good condition. Some areas could even become newly attractive for cultivation, but many are in forests or on wetlands that may require protection from encroachment and degradation.

"What is needed now is political commitment and long-term investment in agricultural production in Central America," says the study. "Governments urgently need to invest in education and training to build institutional and human capacity, and to rebuild extension services that re-emphasise basic agronomy, soil and water management."

Agricultural investment should target smallholders who cultivate land irrigated by rainwater because they grow more than 80 percent of Central America's maize and beans, the study adds.

"Extension services across the region need to be reinvigorated to train small farmers in soil and water management," said Paul Hicks of Catholic Relief Services. "And governments need to lead - they have the ability to make a real difference through setting climate-smart agricultural policies."

With better agronomic practices and water management, maize and bean production - which is low now - could actually be boosted, even in the face of climate change, the report says.

Scientists should also focus on breeding new crop varieties that can better withstand heat and drought stress, "although we need to be wary of over-relying on this strategy", it adds.


Kit B (276)
Tuesday October 9, 2012, 11:16 am

This is not true of just Central America, this is a global problem. Global food prices are sky rocketing, low production in part due to poor use of the land. and mass production farming. Much is due to a lack of growing the foods that can accommodate the indigenous soils, and not allowing land to rest. We would be wise to pay attention to reality and not just hope something will change, we created these problems we can do things to improve and change the future.

JL A (282)
Tuesday October 9, 2012, 11:21 am
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last week.

Roger G (154)
Tuesday October 9, 2012, 12:23 pm
noted, thanks !

JL A (282)
Tuesday October 9, 2012, 1:08 pm
You are welcome Roger!

natalie n (164)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 1:10 am
this problem is widespread worldwide. even all the way in asia the excess flooding, rain and even drought in some areas is creating havoc for the crops. farmers are having a tougher time planting crops, ensuring its not destroyed along the way etc. and sometimes countries have to resort to importing from another country due to destroyed crops because of weather. and the biggest culprits are humans to are causing global warming to become worse.

Frans Badenhorst (582)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 2:45 am
this whole earth is facing it because of US humans.... we did a good job of wrecking it, I reckon.... too late now, sorry

Giana Peranio-paz (398)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 3:07 am

Paul Merrifield (0)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 3:28 am
"Scary", "too late", "crisis"...........GIVE ME A BREAK!
You are all fear mongers just like any of the fear mongering neocons you hate so much and at least Bush didn't condemn and goose step my kids to the greenhouse gas ovens of Liberal climate blame like “Greenzi”.
Everybody knows it was an exaggeration, not a lie because…………………………
Science has NEVER said any crisis “WiLL” happen because there is not one single IPCC warning that isn’t peppered with maybes and “could bes” etc. and if “maybe” is a good enough reason to issue my kids your CO2 death threats then you doomers didn’t love the planet, you all just hated humanity itself.
Get up to date losers, fear mongers and end of the world freaks because we can’t love a planet with fear and you remaining doomers are the problem now, not a solution for a CO2 “mistake” and exaggeration. The big green fear machine is hurting the planet.

*Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by corporations.

*Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by corporations.

*Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses.

*Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).


JL A (282)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 6:17 am
You cannot currently send a star to Frans because you have done so within the last week.

JL A (282)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 6:22 am
And now science finds plants absorb even less CO2 than all the prior models for climate change presumed (too conservative an assumption and thus understated the problem in the results)--probable explanation of at least part of why ice melt is decades ahead of predicted, etc.--all messages that there is even less time to act and that actions cannot solve, only mitigate and the degree of efficacy will depend on speed and boldness of actions sad that so many prefer to believe voices paid for by the fossil fuels industry like you have chosen to do MM.

Justin M (2)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 6:37 am

Mari 's (1356)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 6:48 am

And Romney wants to make it worse by bringing coal and oil to full force if elected. very scary and sad.

Paul Merrifield (0)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 7:48 am

You don't need a bribe from big oil to simply just google "IPCC" and see that there is not one single IPCC warning that is without "maybe" and "could be" and "likely" etc. And this despite the same scientists saying we "could be" at the point of no return. Help my planet is on fire maybe? The exaggeration of climate change is clear to real planet lovers because we didn't want this misery to be real for our children. I'm sick of fear mongering the climate change crisis exaggeration.
Romney thanks you all for fear mongering your own voting base with CO2 death threats to their children, over to the dark side with Romneycon. Nice work girls.

JL A (282)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 8:35 am
Apparently you do not understand that there is NOTHING that is at the 100% certainty you demand in statistical methodologies and thus you preserve the option of disbelief when there is 95% to 99% certainty MM...

Christeen A (376)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 1:14 pm
Climate change is affecting everyone everywhere.

JL A (282)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 2:24 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Christeen because you have done so within the last week.

Lois Jordan (63)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 3:08 pm
I believe in climate change, and it's a problem that must be addressed now. I also believe "commodity speculators" are able to use it as an excuse to falsely raise prices so they can make their money. This is also a problem that needs to be immediately addressed by our Administration and Congress.

JL A (282)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 3:16 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Lois because you have done so within the last week.

Talya H (10)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 6:35 pm
Thanks for the share!

JL A (282)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 6:47 pm
You are welcome Tayla.

Elaya Raja (39)
Friday October 12, 2012, 3:40 am

Kerrie G (118)
Friday October 12, 2012, 5:45 am
Noted, thanks.

paul m (93)
Friday October 12, 2012, 6:14 am

With the weather,,,too hot ,,,too wet ,,soon their will be a famine....

JL A (282)
Friday October 12, 2012, 7:13 am
You are welcome Elaya and Kerrie!

David C (153)
Saturday October 13, 2012, 5:27 pm
eventually this will be the same world-wide.......climate change killing life everywhere.....

JL A (282)
Saturday October 13, 2012, 5:55 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Dave because you have done so within the last week.

g d c (0)
Wednesday October 17, 2012, 8:26 am
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