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Central American farmers suffer major crop losses, need food aid - U.N.

Thursday, 2 May 2019 21:08 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A view of corn crop, ruined by drought, in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, September 23, 2009. REUTERS/Daniel LeClair

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Farmers in the 'Dry Corridor' lost more than half of their maize and beans in 2018 to climate-linked drought or unusually heavy rain

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, May 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than one million people across Central America need food aid after droughts combined with heavy rains in the past year destroyed harvests, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Subsistence farmers along the so-called Dry Corridor that runs through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua lost more than half of their maize and bean crops in 2018, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP) said.

Central America is one of the regions most vulnerable to extreme weather exacerbated by climate change that brings more frequent and severe droughts and floods, the U.N. said.

Farmers are left without enough food to eat or sell in the coming months and without food supplies to see them through the lean time between harvests, it said.

As many as four in every five families in the Dry Corridor have had to sell animals and farming equipment to buy food in the past year, according to government and U.N. agencies estimates.

In total, 2.2 million people have been affected by poor harvests as a result of drought and rains, of which 1.4 million people are in need of food aid, the agencies said.

Small-scale farmers start planting anew this month but risk more losses due to lack of sufficient water, they said.

"We are starting with low water reserves in the soil that we can measure by satellite ... a very weak start to the rainy season. Rains have started but not like normal," said Oscar Rojas, natural resources officer in Panama with the FAO.

"If this continues, we are going to have a real problem in the area," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The region was hit hard by consecutive years of drought from 2014 to mid-2016, which left millions in need of food aid.

The El Nino weather phenomenon - a warming of the Pacific Ocean's surface that causes hot and drier conditions - is expected to continue until October in Central America.

U.N. agencies are recommending farmers grow different food crops to cope with low rainfall, such as replacing water-intensive crops with sorghum.

The FAO and WFP said they need $72 million to provide food aid to more than 700,000 people living in the Dry Corridor during this year.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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