SAN ESTEBAN, Honduras – A severe drought is battering the farming and ranching sectors in Honduras, where growers have seen their corn and bean production fall by more than half and cattle raisers in the eastern province of Olancho have lost more than 1,000 head of livestock.
“There are ranchers here who have lost 80 cattle. An assessment was made and they say that 1,000 head of cattle have been lost throughout the Agalta Valley,” Alvaro Ramos – a small rancher in San Esteban, a municipality in Olancho about 281 kilometers (175 miles) east of Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa – told EFE.
Ramos’ fewer than 20 head of cattle have not suffered from hunger or thirst because he buys a portion of feed from neighboring regions and his animals are able to obtain water from the nearby Tinto River.
Ramos is convinced that the current 10-month drought in hardest-hit Olancho province is due to the loss of forests surrounding the Agalta Valley, saying that ranchers are partly to blame.
“We ranchers do more harm to nature than anyone,” he said, noting that some take their cattle to graze on mountainsides and are ruining (the valley), an area that has seen a particularly high number of livestock deaths.
The 56-year-old native of San Esteban, a municipality known for cattle-raising and – to a lesser extent – farming, said the current drought is the worst he has ever seen.
“It’s been just over 10 months and there are places here where it hasn’t rained at all. The corn and bean fields have been lost.”
Alvaro Mendez, a physician who also works as a rancher and was able to graduate from the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) thanks to his income from cattle raising, also spoke to EFE about the crisis in that sector.
“Just 2 percent of the people you might interview now could tell you they haven’t lost cattle. 98 percent of them have lost. Personally, I’ve lost 25 head,” Mendez told EFE in San Esteban, his hometown.
He added that he has managed to slow the livestock mortality rate at a high cost of more than 300,000 lempiras ($12,100) by buying protein-rich palm kernel meal, a by-product of the African Palm oil industry; molasses; corn stalks; and other alternative sources.
But Mendez said those efforts have convinced him that ranchers must start adopting new strategies, including reducing their numbers of livestock and only maintaining a select group of high-quality cattle.
The severe drought affecting Honduras led President Juan Orlando Hernandez to declare a state of emergency on Sept. 5.
He instructed risk management officials to draw up an action plan for the short, medium and long term that ensures sufficient food supplies for the most affected provinces – Yoro (northern Honduras), Francisco Morazan (central), Olancho (eastern) and El Paraiso Choluteca and Valle (southern).
Between 50-60 percent of basic grain crops – mainly corn and beans – have been lost due to the drought, according to official figures.
The drought in the Central American country also has affected large urban areas such as Tegucigalpa, home to 1.5 million inhabitants.
Water levels at that city’s two most important reservoirs have fallen by around 20 percent, prompting Mayor Nasry Asfura to predict that – barring sufficient rainfall between September and December – the situation in the summer of 2020 will be “very serious.”