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...
By Megan Rowling
Climate change is expected to reduce maize and bean harvests across Central America, leading to economic losses of more than US$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 US$100 million. The combined figure for both crops -- close to US$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.
Read more here.