From December 2015 to February 2016, the climate phenomenon known as el Niño hit various countries in South America, including Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. A natural phenomenon caused by fluctuations in the temperatures of the Pacific Ocean, el Niño led to extreme droughts in these countries, which, in turn, generated onerous losses for farmers throughout the region. Similarly, there was a deficit in the production of goods and prices skyrocketed. This article focuses on lessons learned from el Niño and prevention practices to overcome weather fluctuations.
The Importance of Agricultural Preparedness and Resilience
Countries in the tropical region are not used to having strongly marked, seasonal changes. They do not experience seasonal rotations of cold winters, rainy springs, hot summers, nor colorful falls. However, due to their topography, temperatures and rain patterns do vary in each country. In general, there is simply a wet and a dry season, whose dates vary by country depending on how far north or south they are from the equator. Therefore, farmers are not used to dramatic changes in rainfall or temperatures.
Due to the altitude of some regions, weather fluctuations may not be as strong. For instance, in Medellin, Colombia, temperatures remain stable all year-long at around 80°F during the daytime and around 50°F at nighttime. Medellin sits at 5,000 feet above sea level and temperatures do not fluctuate greatly, which allows flowers, fruits, and vegetables to grow year round. As a result, it is known as ¨The City of Eternal Spring¨. Furthermore, farmers in the region are used to approximately six months of little rain followed six months of heavy rain, with temperatures that allow for crops to grow throughout the whole year.
In recent years, however, el Niño has taken industries by surprise and reminded everyone of the importance of being appropriately prepared. As published by the Americas Society – Council of the Americas, reported losses caused by climate variations can include delays in harvest cycles for goods such as soy and corn crops as well as a reduction in productivity. For example, a few years ago, Colombia´s barley industry reported a 50% production decrease as well as a 44% decrease in wheat and 27% on corn due to weather variations. Likewise, Mexico noted a decrease in the production of asparagus, scallion, and green onions, alongside Peru’s decrease in cattle production. It is important for farmers to take the necessary precautions during the productive months and find ways to become more resilient during seasons of weather hardship.
Farmers need to figure out what the weather is typically like during each month in their respective areas. When the dry season is coming, they should not plant a crop that requires lots of water, such as peas, sweet potatoes, and some kinds of corn. If a farmer harvests only one kind of crop, then he or she should plant its most weather resistant strand. Even though these seeds may be more expensive, they will pay off if drought hits.