Farmer Income Prospects Dim in Central America’s Dry Corridor

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Central American farmers are currently sowing the marketing year‘s first corn crop, but so far they have faced yet another year of adverse weather. Hampered by the current El Niño, year-to-date rainfall has been below normal for the so-called Dry Corridor, which runs from the southern tip of Mexico through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

A decade long expansion in farm incomes from major crops faltered in 2013 in the region known as the Central America Dry Corridor (left chart above). On the right, a map showing NDVI, or normalized difference vegetative index, shows the impact the recent El Niño weather effect has had on vegetative health across the region.

The term “Central America Dry Corridor” was first used in 2009, when the El Niño weather pattern caused a major water deficit in the region, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Such droughts, including a 2015 drought that was the area’s worst in 30 years, alternate with devastating flood years, such as 2011’s torrent of rain that lasted 11 days.

Wild weather swings affect export crops such as corn, rice, and sorghum, as well as fruits such as bananas. The vast majority of the region’s 1 million-tonne arabica coffee crop goes to export. But because the region has a tiny role in global markets, local production shortfalls don’t cause global prices to rise. The result is high volatility in farm incomes and food availability. The region’s farm revenues from grains, oil crops, coffee, fruits and nuts fell over 20%, or $1.2 billion, from 2011 to 2016, the latest year for which FAO data are available. The value of a country’s agricultural exports can swing by more than 100% year to year based on weather conditions, the data shows.

Seemingly perennial weather problems in Central American countries have drawn tens of millions of dollars in food aid from the FAO, the World Food Programme, and others, while also drawing wide interest from groups seeking case studies in climate change.

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