Heatwave and Drought Hit South America’s Crops and Economy

Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Jorgelina Hiba
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 26 2022 – Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, the three major agricultural producers in South America, are currently experiencing a prolonged period of drought and low water levels in their main rivers. This is severely impacting harvests, as well as river transport of important summer crops, with maize and soybeans the main casualties. 

Although conditions may yet improve, the grain harvests of 2021 and 2022 could result in losses that will impact the economies of three countries, though experts say the potential magnitude is still difficult to foresee.

For soy, South America’s star grain, projections for possible losses caused by adverse weather in the countries vary. The most conservative forecasts come from the United States Department of Agriculture, which anticipates a 9.5 million tonne shortfall, while others forecast more acute losses, such as the Brazilian agency AgRural, which estimates a 20 million tonne reduction in production across the three countries.

Brazil is the world’s leading producer and exporter of soybeans and the world’s third largest producer of maize. Both grain crops are suffering this season due to the lack of rain in the country’s southern states, and will see smaller harvests than were expected a month ago

As for maize, it will be difficult for Argentina and Brazil to reach the output that they expected even a few weeks ago, according to a report by agribusiness consultant Marianela de Emilio. “The weather continues to put South America’s production projections on a tightrope, with planting area adjustments and potential yields down,” she explained.

Weather projections, at least until the end of March or early April, are not too encouraging for the entire region, as the La Niña climate pattern continues to impact South American weather, and contributes to drought in the three countries.

“As long as La Niña remains active, these patterns will continue, and projections are not optimistic for the short term, as we are still under the influence of a circulation pattern that inhibits rainfall in the Paraná basin area,” said Cindy Fernández of Argentina’s National Meteorological Service (SMN).


A trio in trouble

Brazil is the world’s leading producer and exporter of soybeans and the world’s third largest producer of maize. Both grain crops are suffering this season due to the lack of rain in the country’s southern states, and will see smaller harvests than were expected a month ago.

Forecasts already show what has been lost. Due to the drought, Brazil’s state-owned National Supply Company (Conab), which oversees agricultural planning, cut crop estimates for coarse grains that it had made in December. For soybeans, these were reduced from 142.8 million to 140.5 million tonnes, while for maize, the authority expects an output of 112.9 million instead of 117.2 million tonnes.

In Argentina, a lack of rainfall in the central-eastern region during the crop cycle forced estimates for the maize harvest to be cut by 8 million tonnes, from 56 million to 48 million tonnes, and soybeans from 45 million to 40 million tonnes. A heat wave hit the most fertile part of the country in the first weeks of January.

Meanwhile in Paraguay, the situation is no better, according to the country’s agriculture minister, Moisés Bertoni. “We were doing well until the last weeks of November, but December was very dry and in January very high temperatures arrived, which had an impact on soya, which is Paraguay’s main export crop,” he said.

The Rosario Stock Exchange (BCR) estimates that the drought will cut Paraguay’s expected soya production by 30%, which, along with a projected 5 million tonne shortfall in the maize harvest, could mean a loss of income of around US$4.5 billion for the nation. “Many producers have opted to feed the [damaged] maize to cattle, although we are still waiting for conditions to improve,” Bertoni added.


An unusual climate

This season’s difficulties aren’t entirely new, however. Paraguay, southern Brazil and northeastern Argentina cover a vast region of South America crossed by rivers that make up the Río de La Plata Basin, and have been experiencing a severe water deficit for almost three years, with two consecutive summers under the influence of La Niña.

According to Fernández of the SMN, it has been more than 20 years since normal or above-normal rainfall has been recorded in southern Brazil, with some exceptions. This means that the region has been suffering from a long-standing water deficit. In Argentina, the northeastern Litoral region has recorded below-normal rainfall for the last two years, particularly during the summer.

According to Paraguayan agronomist Luis Recalde, while this year’s event is not a completely unknown or new phenomenon, it is unusual in its magnitude and duration. “This above-average intensity and duration is partly attributable to climate change, and the likelihood for the future is that these events will recur more frequently,” he said.

For Recalde, the problems of the drought go beyond production and are socio-environmental. These range from losses in agricultural and livestock productivity “that will have lasting effects on the prices of basic food basket products” to the amplification of forest fires, which generate “great loss of biodiversity and damage to health in terms of air quality”.


River levels remain low

The rivers that make up the Río de La Plata basin, which covers an area of over 3 million km2, are experiencing extraordinarily low water levels, which began in the southern winter of 2019 and are still persisting. This phenomenon has various consequences for the human use of the rivers and their productive functions.

“The impacts of the lack of flow in the rivers are enormous and very diverse, but the most obvious for people are the shortage of water for consumption, and the rise in the prices of electricity, goods and fuels that are moved through the rivers or the energy generated in dams,” said Recalde.

For Paraguay, which transports part of its grain production by barge to the agro-export ports of Rosario in Argentina, the river’s low water level has become a problem for the state. “The barges go without a full load and that means a double cost for exports,” said Bertoni, the agriculture minister.

Argentina’s agro-industrial sector is also suffering millions of dollars in losses due to the Paraná river’s low water level. According to the Rosario Stock Exchange, in 2021 alone, some US$620 million were lost as ships were unable to fill their cargo to capacity due to drought-related production problems.


Economic impacts

The current drought has and will have severe economic impacts. The impact on the Argentine economy will be at least US$4.8 billion – equivalent to 1% of the country’s GDP – according to a report from the Rosario Stock Exchange.

“Even with the recovery of prices, the loss of net income for the producing sector already amounts to US$2.93 billion, which will result in less freight, less financial and intermediary services and less consumption,” the exchange’s report explains.

But the weather does not affect everyone equally. The stock exchange argued that the drought affects small and medium-sized producers in particular, many of them tenant farmers who no longer have their own fields. In rented fields, the result of the current agricultural campaign is already negative.

“There is a good chance that with the current costs, the producers who continue to pursue these activities will go back to making more soybeans and return to monoculture,” warned the BCR.

Carlos Achetoni, the president of the Federación Agraria Argentina, which represents medium and small producers across the country, said many are already in debt. “A bad harvest leaves many in a situation of bankruptcy, and this could force more producers out of the production circuit if help does not come from the state,” he said.

In Paraguay, according to Bertoni, agriculture accounts for 25% of GDP directly, a percentage that rises to 50% if one considers the activity it generates indirectly through services such as transport or agricultural machinery. “The impact of the drought in Paraguay is brutal, and even more so if we talk about soya, which accounts for 40% of our total exports,” he explained.

In Brazil, last year alone, the drought and the energy crisis it generated caused losses of some US$1.464 billion, according to the National Confederation of Industry (CNI).


Forecasts offer no relief

The outlook for weather across South America’s agricultural region does not look promising, according to the January–March 2022 quarterly forecast from Argentina’s meteorological service.

“There is an increased likelihood of warmer than usual average temperatures across much of the country. The regions with the highest probabilities in this category are the south of the Litoral, centre-south of [the provinces of] Santa Fe, Córdoba, Buenos Aires and La Pampa,” the report states. It is not good reading for these provinces, which are Argentina’s agricultural heartlands.

As for rainfall, the forecast shows that the Litoral is almost 50% more likely to see below-normal rainfall for this quarter of the year.

These conditions, said meteorological expert Cindy Fernandez, will extend across the whole of southern South America, including the large agricultural production area shared by southern Brazil, Paraguay and northeastern Argentina: “The area shares weather patterns, and is under the influence of La Niña for the second consecutive summer. The projections are not good, at least until the end of the summer.”

This article was originally published by ChinaDialogue

Future of Coral Reefs in the Time of Climate Change

Reef fish and corals in the waters of Seychelles archipelago. Credit: UNDP

By Geetika Chandwani and Ira Chandwani
NEW JERSEY, Jan 26 2022 – Coral reefs are one of the world’s most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems. They provide abundant ecological goods and services and are central to the socio-economic and cultural welfare of coastal and island communities – throughout tropical and subtropical ocean countries – by contributing billions of dollars to the local and global economies, when combined with tourism and recreation.

Coral reefs also play a vital role in the protection of shorelines, fisheries, biodiversity and unique ecosystems. Building magnificent reefs, tiny coral polyps have developed an incredible ability to calcify and are the most prolific mineralizers on the planet.

They form immense structures like the Great Barrier Reef, which is a world heritage site. And in doing so, they make more minerals than any other organism and have adapted specialized structures that are well worth imitating.

Biomimicry is the concept of the imitation of models, systems, and elements of nature to solve complex human problems. It is an efficient, innovative, and sustainable way compared to conventional techniques, and hence it has scope in the future of sustainable habitats.

Biomineralization expert Brent Constantz of Stanford University was inspired to make a new type of cement for constructing buildings by copying how corals build reefs.

Making this cement through biomimicry removes carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas that causes global warming, as noted by Carla A. Wise (12 March 2010) in “Biomimicry inventors tackle environmental problems” in https://www.hcn.org/issues/42.5/inspired-by-nature.

Corals have evolved chemical defenses to protect themselves from predators. These substances are important sources of new medicines that are being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and other maladies.

Further research is being developed for potential medical treatments, nutritional supplements, pesticides, cosmetics, and other commercial products. Unfortunately, the adverse effect of human activities adversely impacts upon these valuable maritime resources.

Among the most critical of threats are improper fishing activities (bottom trawling), land-based sources of pollution (such as sewage discharge, microplastic pollution), climate change, ocean warming and acidification, and habitat destruction through rapacious overfishing with China and Taiwan among the chief culprits.

Corals reefs are the foundation of tropical marine ecosystems that exist in a symbiotic relationship with algae and plankton that keep the world’s fish stocks sustained. Corals obtain their energy by consuming compounds derived from photosynthesis by the microorganisms inhabiting coral tissue.

This symbiosis is very sensitive and subject to subtle environmental changes, such as increased ocean acidity and rising temperature. When excessively stressed, the colorful algae are expelled from the corals, causing the corals to bleach and eventually die.

The most significant threat to coral reefs ever documented was the high temperature-related coral bleaching caused by the El Nino Southern Oscillation of 1997-98. Recovery of affected reefs has been primarily through the regrowth of surviving colonies.

Since then, significant coral recruitment has been observed, raising hopes for the recovery of several reefs if other major threats do not transpire in the near term.

Nevertheless, threats to coral reefs continue due to human activities including overfishing, destructive fishing practices, pollution, human settlement and development, mining, commercial shipping industry and rampant tourism in tropical coastal regions.

The effects of overfishing and bottom trawling on structurally complex habitats and fauna have been compared to the impacts of forest clear-cutting. As nets, beams, trawl doors, chains, and dredges pass over the seabed, the sediment surface and a considerable proportion of the vital habitat of animal and plant life are disturbed, sometimes permanently.

China’s distant water fishing where the fishing boats often use bottom trawling, dragging a net across the seabed entailing significant bycatch (including juvenile fish, sharks, seabirds, marine turtles), damages the seafloor, and irrevocably harms coral reefs. Trawling can also disturb areas where fish breeding stocks congregate, which artisanal fishing communities have traditionally used to identify critical fishing grounds.

Data on the dimensions of various destructive fishing practices (such as blast fishing, anchor damage, and the use of poisons), coral regrowth estimates, and time graphs of fish diversity, all reveal the full extent of all current destruction of coral reefs and their habitat.

Many countries have laws prohibiting blast fishing, but they are not fully implemented unfortunately, and are challenging to enforce in remote areas. The sound waves from the explosions of fish bombs are trapped underwater, making it difficult to detect from the surface. Effective management of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) is key to patrolling illegal fishing areas.

In northern Tanzania, illegal blast fishing poses a critical danger to its coral reefs. Blast fishing was banned in Tanzania in 2003 under the revised Fisheries Act. Such fishing practices carry a penalty however, such illegal practices provide fisherfolk an easy way (short cut) to boost their catch, especially in countries where enforcing maritime laws can be difficult.

A spot check by Anadoly News agency revealed that illegal fishing practices continue unabated in parts of the region as noted by Kizito Makoye (31 August 2021) in “Blast fishing by Tanzanian fishermen endangers marine life in Indian Ocean” in https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/blast-fishing-by-tanzanian-fishermen-endangers-marine-life-in-indian-ocean/2351382.

Dynamite fishing destroys both the food chain and the corals where fish hatchlings nest and grow in safe ecosystems. Without healthy coral reefs, these ecosystems and the fish that live within them die off. It kills the entire food chain, including algae, plankton, large and small fish, and the juveniles that do not grow old enough to breed.

Sustaining the needs of local fisherfolk requires careful examination, given the implications for their livelihoods and socioeconomic wellbeing. One study found that decline in the shark fin trade among communities in eastern Indonesia, led fisherfolk to pursue high-risk activities, including blast fishing, illegal transboundary fishing, and transnational crimes – as noted by the California Environmental Associates in “Trends in Marine Resources and Fisheries Management in Indonesia: A 2018 Review” in https://www.ceaconsulting.com/casestudies/indonesia-report/.

Given the complexity of these socio-economic conditions, additional research is required to identify sustainable and practical fisheries management measures that can reduce pressure on the most vulnerable fishing communities and thereby protect coastal livelihoods. Adverse conditions arising from a cycle of poverty results in resource degradation, and if pushed too hard, coral reefs may eventually lose their ability to bounce back even when economic conditions improve.

According to a World Bank report, 56% of the coastline of Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo is subject to average erosion of 1.8 meters per year. Benin’s erosion rates are exceptionally high, with an average loss of 4 meters per year.

Beyond the economic cost, coastal degradation takes lives and destroys livelihoods – as noted in the World Bank publication (14 March 2019) in “West Africa’s Coast: Losing Over $3.8 Billion a Year to Erosion, Flooding and Pollution” in https://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/publication/west-africas-coast-losing-over-38-billion-a-year-to-erosion-flooding-and-pollution

Today, with many nations and communities practicing sustainable ecological programs, human perceptions of nature, the environment, climate and the oceans is changing. Undoubtedly, humans are an integral part of creation, nature, and the environment and therefore developing a new concept of environmental ethics is essential for a sustainable future for the planet.

There are projects that range from education programs, plastic pollution control, Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) eradication, coral nurseries, renewable energy development, and responsible stewardship.

The Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GCF) is a 10-year, USD 625 million blended finance vehicle consisting of a grant window, designed to incubate a pipeline of investible projects, and an investment window which GCF is funding as noted by GCF staff (11 Nov 2021) in “Global Fund for Coral Reefs brings together grant and investment windows at GCF COP26 event” in https://www.greenclimate.fund/news/global-fund-coral-reefs-brings-together-grant-and-investment-windows-gcf-cop26-event

Marine biologists vigilantly monitor coral reefs with the help of scuba divers and by deploying autonomous or human-operated underwater vehicles to capture visual data on coral reefs. There are research materials on the effects of oceanographic variables, such as sea temperature, turbulence, salinity, and nutrients feeding coral reefs and their influence on coral growth, reproduction, mortality, assimilation, and adaptation.

Coral plantations are costly and time-consuming, and species introductions are often very challenging. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), located on the shore of the Red Sea, offers a unique combination of wonderful access to coral reefs and world-class research laboratories.

KAUST is working to identify heat-resilient corals and crossbreed them with coral populations elsewhere to increase their heat tolerance – as noted by Marta Vidal (17 Jan 2022) in Deutsche Welle (DW) News in “Could the Red Sea’s heat-resilient corals help restore the world’s dying reefs?” in https://www.dw.com/en/could-the-red-seas-heat-resilient-corals-help-restore-the-worlds-dying-reefs/a-60389699.

The CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing system is also helping scientists understand, and possibly improve, how coral reefs respond to the environmental stresses of climate change.

The economic value of coral reefs is rarely appreciated. Gains and losses in numbers activate a sense of realization when confronted with risky decisions related to the environment. Governments, key decision-makers, and individuals working together must advocate more of the actual value of coral reefs when used sustainably.

This will help specifically in restructuring aid and sustainable-conservation efforts to tackle causes of coral reef decline. The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA 2022).

This timing from the world’s leading multilateral agency can serve as an excellent opportunity to promote the socioeconomic importance of coral reefs and the maintenance of vibrant coastal communities steeped in the culture of the peoples of the sea.

Gabriel Grimsditch, a marine ecosystem expert at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said, “Apart from urgently cutting carbon emissions, humans can design a network of effective and equitable marine protected areas or locally managed marine areas to protect coral reefs”. Provide reference Combatting Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing is one of the United Nations critical Sustainable Development Goals – SDG 14 is a problem of grave global concern.

At risk is a significant source of protein for hundreds of millions of people and the health of coral reefs. Stop Fish Bombing, an NGO registered as a charity in Hong Kong, has developed underwater bomb location technology in collaboration with the Californian tech company ShotSpotter to adapt their gunshot location technology to help detect and alert law enforcement and ultimately eradicate destructive fishing practices.

This innovative technology testing by the NGO Stop Fish Bombing must extend to all continents. Local announcements of such innovations can allow administrations to create alerts.

Coral reefs form barriers to protect the shoreline from waves and storms – where coral reef structures buffer shorelines against erosion and floods, helping to prevent loss of life and property damage.

Shoreline protection is necessary to retain and rebuild natural systems (such as cliffs, dunes, wetlands, and beaches) and to protect man’s artifacts (buildings, infrastructure, etc.). Working together with governments and law enforcement coastal communities can significantly improve the operational efficiency of enforcement activities and legal processes, which has the potential to have a global impact.

Geetika Chandwani is finishing her M.A. at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, New Jersey and her daughter Ira Chandwani is a high school student in New Jersey.


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“A lack of respect for human life from conception to natural death and a lack of respect for the environment are both signs of a person claiming power over something that is not theirs to control”- Pope Francis