MANAGUA, Nicaragua—The government of Nicaragua is working to address widespread hunger and food shortages in the wake of a drought. This drought is the country’s worst in 32 years and has already killed livestock and crops along the Pacific coast and in central regions. Officials are attempting to implement measures to help farmers deal with the dry conditions as many Nicaraguan civilians suffer from food shortages and increased food prices.
The Nicaraguan drought this year has had devastating effects on the country’s farming and fishing sectors, as well as on the people who work in those industries. Many Nicaraguan farmers do not have sufficient disposable income to buy food they cannot grow, so if rain does not come soon many could go hungry.
Livestock have not responded well to drought conditions. Nicaragua’s National Livestock Commission reports that 2,500 cows have already died of starvation, while as many as 600,000 more are unhealthy or at risk of death. Cows are vital sources of protein and income for Nicaraguan farmers; about 10 percent of Nicaragua’s GDP is related to livestock breeding.
The drought has also greatly reduced the country’s crop yield, and many staple vegetables have become virtually unaffordable to many Nicaraguans. The price of red beans, one of Nicaragua’s most important food crops, has risen to $2 per kilogram, more than double their pre-drought prices. More than 2.5 million Nicaraguans live on less than $2 per day.
So far, government attempts to address the drought have had limited success. A $300,000 program to distribute additional feed to cattle farmers did not stop animal deaths. The government also urged farmers to transport their cows to the less-affected east coast, but many do not have the money or the means to do this.
In response to continued livestock losses, the government recently advised Nicaraguan farmers to domesticate iguanas and raise them for their meat and skins. Still, this measure may not be enough to help people afford extra food. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega imported 20.5 million kilograms of beans and 73.5 kilograms of corn in an attempt to reduce prices.
The government hopes to rebound from the drought with better yields later this year. Climatologists estimate that the drought could persist until September of this year.
This drought comes at a bad time for Nicaragua because coffee rust disease, which kills coffee plants, is also hurting Nicaragua’s economy. The blight and the drought combined have had such bad consequences for Nicaragua that its central bank lowered the projected GDP growth from 4.5-5 percent to 4-4.5 percent.
This week, the famine early warning system released alerts indicating that Nicaragua, along with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, could experience food shortages and have much weaker food security in 2015. International aid agencies warned that more money will be needed to prevent the drought from causing a food crisis.
Despite its susceptibility to droughts and its status as one of the poorest countries in Central America, Nicaragua receives very little aid from the U.S. government. According to ForeignAssistance.gov, the total Nicaraguan aid budget for 2015 totals $8.2 million, with the majority of aid going to prevent political corruption. Food aid to farmers is much less than this.
Without an increase in aid from the world’s governments to bolster Nicaragua’s food security, rising food prices and the ongoing drought could take hunger to crisis levels. In the coming months, Nicaragua may become a high priority for foreign aid agencies if the drought does not end soon.
– Ted Rappleye