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
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%.