28 July 1997
El Nino could devastate worlds farming regions

Meterologists are predicting that an El Nino weather system will devastate the worlds most important staple commodity-growing regions this Christmas.

El Nino is the name given to the appearance of warm sea surface-water in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean off the western coast of South America. It frequently coincides with Christmas, but has made an earlier-than-expected entrance this year. The last El Nino is estimated to have caused $13.6bn of damage to crops and livelihoods the last time one struck in 1982-83.

Its appearance correlates with summer droughts in northern Australia, south-east Africa, north-east Brazil, parts of Asia and central America. It may also be linked to wetter, milder winters in the northern hemisphere. Already, 20m ha of arable land are now affected by drought in the north of China. Indonesia, the worlds biggest producer of robusta coffee beans is suffering severe drought. Global cocoa production is also likely to be hit, with some analysts forecasting a drop of 10%. Wheat futures in Australia for January and February have risen in response to the threat. In Thailand, the national sugar cane board predicts that the 1997-98 crop could fall by as much as 15%.

  • Financial Times 28/07/97 page 17