Drought Has Wiped Out 130 Millions Pounds of Corn in El Salvador

Rain shortages have happened before in El Salvador. Here, back in 2001.
Rain shortages have happened before in El Salvador. Here, back in 2001.
Photo: AP

The tiny Central American country of El Salvador’s civil protection agency has issued a “red alert” as of Tuesday. The culprit? Drought.

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More than 77,000 corn farmers have been afflicted by the drought that’s been ongoing for a month, according to the government. The Directorate of Civil Protection Jorge Melendez said Tuesday that more than 130 million pounds of corn were lost, reports Reuters.

Officials are still investigating whether other crops like coffee have been affected, too. Twenty-nine days of no rain triggers the red alert, which has been issued in 143 of the country’s 262 municipalities. Issuing the alert will allow the government to bring farmers the financial aid and seeds they need to begin planting again.

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Corn is a staple in El Salvador. You’ll find it in drinks like atole and in the dough used to make tortillas and tamales. Rows of corn plants can be found throughout the country everywhere you go, but especially in the east where most of the country’s grains grow. The drought hit this part of the country particularly hard, per the Associated Press, with temperatures setting heat records in recent days.

Record-breaking heat is becoming an all-too-common phenomenon these days due to climate change. So is drought. We know climate change is projected to intensify drought periods in certain regions of the world, and Central America is one of them. Unless farmers get help adapting, you best believe agriculture will suffer.

El Salvador declared a drought emergency for the first time on record in 2016 when waters reached critically low levels. The country is particularly vulnerable to climate change because much of its cropland is uninsured, requires rain, and is at risk of soil degradation, according to the World Bank. Oxfam International touts organic farming and gardening as a solution, but it’s unclear if that will be enough to deal with the massive shift climate change could bring.

Many of the immigrants currently leaving Latin America for the U.S. come from El Salvador. It’s no wonder people leave given the mass inequality the country faces, as well as the increased threat climate change poses to its indigenous and rural people, as the World Bank notes. 

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Civil war drove my parents to leave their beloved El Salvador in the 1980s. Climate change might just be the next big push.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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This is USDA corn stocks as of June 2018:

Corn stocks in all positions on June 1, 2018 totaled 5.31 billion bushels, up 1 percent from June 1, 2017. Of the total stocks, 2.75 billion bushels are stored on farms, down 3 percent from a year earlier. Off-farm stocks, at 2.56 billion bushels, are up 7 percent from a year ago. The March - May 2018 indicated disappearance is 3.59 billion bushels, compared with 3.39 billion bushels during the same period last year.

A bushel of corn (shelled) is around 50 pounds. That’s 265 billion pounds just in stock. At 0.05 percent - we should probably give El Salvador corn. However, this probably is meaningless since US corn is field corn and pretty useless until it’s feed to cattle for McDonald’s hamburgers, proceed into sweetener for Mountain Dew Extreme or processed into ethanol to blend with gasoline. It can be grounded into meal for baking and used to distill whiskey, though. It’s truly amazing how much agriculture land goes to food that isn’t edible until further down the supply chain - or not eaten at all like fuel ethanol. US sweet corn production (the edible stuff) is almost negligible compared to field corn.