(HN, 5/14/12) - In Brazil the worst drought in 30 years is underway in the country's poor north-eastern region, destroying crops and prompting officials to limit water use in the 266 districts that have declared a state of emergency. Lakes have dried up, forcing thousands of families who live in remote areas to walk miles in order to pick up water.
The agriculture secretary in the town of Maracas, Gilmar Rocha, said the drought problems have become constant in the region. "The local neighborhood of Porto Alegre, is located close to the Contas' river, and we use the river's water in our homes. But the river is drying up and the problems are constant now," he said.
As a result of the drought, ranchers have been struggling to feed and water cattle while farmers have been left to watch their crops shrivel into the dusty soil. Forty-two-year-old Jose Oliveira de Sousa, who works at a raft station in the district of Maracas, said many of his colleagues have been left unemployed as a result of the drought.
"Everyone is going through a big crisis because of the drought. Our jobs have been taken away from us, from the fishermen to the farmers to the boat and raft operators," he said.
According to weather experts, the drought may last up to October. The drought in the Southern hemisphere is caused by La Nina, which is cooling equatorial Pacific waters.
- By Marisa Krystian originally for IBNTimes
In Mexico a cold and dry winter in the north of the country has exacerbated conditions there with reports of widespread famine, escalating food prices and extreme dry conditions that have forced the Mexican government to truck drinking water to nearly a half million residents in remote villages across six northern states where lakes and ground wells have run dry.
In addition, Mexican aid workers have been offering food rations throughout the winter to more than 2 million residents who are desperately clinging to life in a region that is experiencing its driest period on record.
The drought is credited with destroying some 7.5 million acres of cultivable land in 2011 and is responsible for $1.18 billion in lost harvests and has destroyed about 60,000 head of cattle and weakened 2 million more causing a substantial spike in food prices.
Officials say acute food and grain shortages caused Mexico’s imports to soar 35% last year and they could go even higher in 2012 as conditions worsen.
Dr. Mark Welch, grain marketing economist with Texas AgriLife Extension in College Station, says while Texas is not a big corn producing state, he thinks shortages for grain and food corn will cause many US growers to look hard at market potential in Mexico in the months ahead.
“We have been watching corn imports trend higher in Mexico over the last 25 years, but the recent spike related to the drought there is significant as it is not just yellow corn that is in demand, but white corn for food,” Welch says.
In Mexico the shortage of white corn is marked by higher food prices and a shortage in tortillas, a food staple for Mexican families.
“And this is not the first time we have seen an extreme shortage. The last time was in 2008 when corn shortages caused a tortilla crisis that resulted in riots and price limit controls by federal authorities,” he added.
Welch says even if drought conditions improve in Northern Mexico over the summer months, the trend for white corn imports are expected to trend upward.
“The demand for grain corn may be directly associated with the drought in Northern Mexico. Once conditions improve there we will see Mexican grain corn imports leveling off. But white corn imports have been trending up for several years, and it could be that a growing population base is driving demand - and I expect that to continue,” he says.
Meanwhile, Mexico continues to struggle with more than just grain shortages as a result of dry conditions. The 2011 price of beans has doubled in just over a year, and consumers are feeling the pinch in other food staples. On a whole, prices for basic foods—including beans, tortillas, vegetable oil, meat and dairy - rose 45% in 2011, and since October last year prices have exploded another 35%.
While the situation is most dire in the impoverished areas of the north, metropolitan areas including highly industrialized Monterrey are also feeling the squeeze. Recently the Mexican Red Cross estimated that some two million people are chronically hungry in the state of Nuevo Leon.
The crisis is becoming a political thorn in the side of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. While Mexico grows substantial food crops for export to the US - some $21 billion last year - it is struggling to grow enough for its resident population, a problem some argue is being driven by greed from Mexico’s upper class.
Economists say Mexico will continue to struggle with becoming more sustainable and self-sufficient, but drought conditions will continue to complicate those efforts until substantial rains fall.
-- A version of this article by Southwest Farm Press