You know it’s dry when even the cacti are withering. A drought has been plaguing the majority of Mexican states for two solid years; it has gone from bad to worse in such a way that it’s now officially the worst drought in recorded history. The Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders Texas, has been particularly hard it. Many residents are leaving in search of…anything, really, that could sustain them. Coahuila is primarily a ranching state, but the cattle are roaming in a fruitless search for food and water, finding nothing and leaving behind their wasted carcasses. In addition to the ranchers, farmers are being hard hit as well; in Coahuila, known as the largest producer of sorghum, has lost so much cropland it had to import sorghum feed. Other areas of Mexico expect no harvest at all of corn. An area roughly the size of Connecticut has gone from farmland to wasteland over the past two years (aggregating all of the worst affected areas in Mexico).
For Coahuila, cattle is their livelihood, and this drought has caused whole towns to shutter due to the loss of income and food availability. Over 60,000 cattle have been reported as “lost” (dead before being slaughtered), but it’s assumed that much more than that have not been reported. These cattle weren’t necessarily destined to become dinner in Mexico either; Mexico is the main supplier of cattle to the U.S. With the shortage of food, the spike in sorghum prices, and the harsh conditions, farmers are rushing their cattle to slaughter before they die. This is causing a glut on the market, and so a drop in meat prices – exactly when the cost to produce the animals is skyrocketing. However, the price is still relatively higher than average due to the lower-than-average cattle slaughter.
Crop shortages – everything from corn and beans to tomatoes – are expected to afflict nearly all states across Mexico, and the president has ordered drinking water be trucked in to certain hard-hit villages. President Calderon signed a bill to mitigate the effects of the severe drought. Some of the measures that involve agriculture include installing irrigation into fields of staple crops, as well as other infrastructure such as sewage and water works. One somewhat troubling line item is that the president temporarily abolished the need for completing environmental impact assessments before beginning construction; it’s an effort to speed up the process to reach those in need. But I wonder, if we continue to put human needs ahead of the environment, aren’t we ultimately dooming ourselves? But I digress…
Water capture and storage projects will be implemented alongside the irrigation projects in order to make the most use of the rain (some is expected, at some point, hopefully). Additionally, resources will be provided to ensure continued production of the country’s food supply. Subsidies for corn flour milling will be increased, and catastrophic crop insurance will be expanded, so farmers will be encouraged to plant for the next harvest despite the fear of impending desiccation of their crops. So, although the drought is expected to continue this year, with most Mexican states receiving half or less of their average rainfall, measure are in place to hopefully ease the distress of the millions of farmers and rural dwellers most affected. This is a relief for many farmers, who have recently organized protests in Mexico City to try to get the government to act to send food and water to those most desperate. The protestors came largely from the northwestern region of Chihuahua, home of the legendary Tarahumara tribe, where both extremely cold temperatures and the drought have left thousands without drinking water or food.
Incidentally, the drug crops have also been affected with this drought. Military surveillance plans have spotted far less marijuana and opium plantations this year than in past years. No, of course it’s not due to cracking down on the drug trade. Apparently only Mother Nature can make a dent in the production of illegal crops. However, this isn’t necessarily slowing the flow of drugs because there’s been an increase in synthetic drugs. Those are much easier to control than temperamental plants! However, we can only hope that the measures being implemented by the government to install irrigation infrastructure will not benefit the growers of marijuana and opium as well.