Higher temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns threaten the livelihoods of one million maize and bean farmers in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, according to a report that for the first time takes a specific look at the impact of climate change on a local level.
“Even with our most conservative estimates, it’s clear that climate change could transform the agricultural landscape across Central America,” said Anton Eitzinger, a climate scientist at International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and lead author of the report. “Conditions are already tough there; it’s one of the poorest and most vulnerable parts of Latin America.”
Tortillas on the Roaster (PDF) shows that an expected average temperature increase of around 1 degree Celsius by 2020 will severely affect maize, exacerbating water shortages and causing the plants to suffer from heat stress. Large swaths of the current maize-growing area could become unsuitable for the crop, resulting in economic losses to the region as a whole of around US$100 million per year.
For beans, there is a serious threat of reduced rains during the planting season in September, with higher temperatures affecting flowering and seed production, which could reduce yields in all four countries by as much as 25 percent. The report estimates maize and bean production losses at about US$20 million per year by 2020.
Overall, about one million smallholder farmers and their families face substantial declines in crops, income and nutrition. Many will likely lose their land entirely.