Hurricane Iota hit the areas where the majority of the second season bean crop is grown hard, in which a little more than a third of the national production of the grain is obtained. Although it is too early to know for sure what the extent of the damage is, there is concern about what may have happened to up to 1.4 million quintals of beans that have not yet been harvested.
The president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), Michael Healy, estimates the length of roads damaged by the rains at 1,200 kilometers, and advocates for the Government to prioritize the repair of accesses to the most affected areas of production.
His main argument is that the second season harvest is on its way out, and a significant decrease in the number of quintals harvested may affect food security, both in Nicaragua and in the Central American countries that buy our products.
There are sectors that are especially concerned, because they fear what they will find when the waters go down and they can draw the complete map of the disaster, starting with the bean producers.
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The country produces 4.5 million quintals of beans in three harvests distributed throughout the year. At this moment, farmers are raising the second harvest, which contributes 35% of the national production, while preparing to start the Apante season, which represents 45% of what is produced in the year, both in planted areas and in harvested quintals.
Julio Munguía, technical manager of Upanic, explained that this year 1.8 million quintals were expected to be harvested in the latter season because there was a good winter and good crop management, but “Eta affected certain areas that were close to being harvested, and Iota gave them a death blow”.
The result is that some producers (most of them are small farmers who plant one to two blocks of land) lost up to 70% of the crops they expected.
Another fact that helps to graph the dimension of the damage is that Nueva Segovia, Matagalpa, Estelí, Madriz, and Jinotega contribute 81% of the second season production, (accounting for 1.4 million of the 1.8 million quintals), and those are the departments devastated by the passage of the hurricane, recalled Munguía, although he discards the shortage because the first harvest was productive and there is inventory.
For now, the cameras are waiting to see what happens when Salvadoran buyers enter the production areas to buy the bean harvest, because “that will give us a measure of how much the harvest was affected,” Munguía warned.
After that, it will also be necessary to evaluate the delay that the flooded and water-saturated soils could cause the Apante crop, which is sown between the end of November and the beginning of December.
Iota’s aftermath: Legumes and vegetables
Another sector that reports high losses is legumes and vegetables, which include foods such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, zucchini, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, chayotes, pipianes, and squash, among others.
Munguía said that in areas like Jinotega between 70% and 80% was lost, with areas reporting total losses in vegetables and greens, as well as in their irrigation systems, tunnels, and micro tunnels.
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“The economic crisis and the reduction in tourism had reduced the demand for vegetables, which is now being hit by two almost consecutive hurricanes. This is a sector that uses many inputs, so its production costs are very high, and it represents a significant blow for them,” he explained.
Much further to the south of the country, the banana —which is grown mainly in Rivas and Nandaime to be sold in the local market and Central America— is also affected by floods, which translate into potentially diseased crops with lower productivity.
Milk: cheese is safe
Dairy producers are also on the lookout, trying to determine the size of the hit. For now, they only know they were wrong when they said that in a single day (Tuesday 17), they stopped producing 300,000 liters of milk. The correct figure is 380,000, but they only had that certainty after speaking with the cooperatives that had been cut off from communication.
The country produces around 2.2 million liters of milk a day. The products that could not be sold were turned into artisan cheese and curd or used to feed other animal species.
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The executive director of the Nicaraguan Chamber of the Dairy Sector (Canislac), Óscar López, recalled that Eta prevented the collection of 270,000 liters in total, but throughout four days of damage. Later, Iota made sure that 620,000 liters of milk stopped reaching the collection centers, which mainly affects small producers who depend on the permanent sale of that product, to cover their day-to-day expenses.
The next step is to count the number of pastures that were lost due to flooding because that grass is stored to feed the animals in summer, but it is too early to know what the impact of the downpours is, measured in terms of losses in food banks.
“The municipalities of the Dry Corridor, such as Cuapa, Camoapa, San José de los Remates, Acoyapa, Juigalpa… they all work with silos, and if they flooded they would not have food for the summer. We are looking to complete those numbers, which could be alarming, and impact our export capacity, “he said.
Coffee: the luck of ripening late
The winds of Eta and later those of Iota shook the coffee plantations, but luckily for the coffee growers, the grain took a long time to mature this year.
“We are in the cutting season, and we maintain our projection – national and individual – that we are going to get three million quintals, because we had not started the full harvest,” said Aura Lila Sevilla, president of the National Alliance of Coffee Growers of Nicaragua ( ANCN).
“Eta accelerated ripening, but not to the extent of triggering the full harvest, the peak of which occurs in December, with Matagalpa and Jinotega as the origin of 80% of the harvest. The variables to get around are the three national holidays in December which affect the availability of labor, and the possibility of rain. The advantage is that there is time to get ready ”, estimates Sevilla.
Her optimism does not mean that the coffee sector has been unscathed. Julio Munguía, from Upanic, spoke of plants shaken and weakened by the wind, as well as damage to the infrastructure necessary to harvest: from kitchens and camps to house and feed the cutters, to fences and roads.
An additional problem is that the drying process will be affected if the rain continues, which, if the forecast that tropical wave number 46 will affect us is fulfilled, is very likely. This would saturate the earth more and increase the risk of landslides.
“There are people in shelters right now, which means a risk of contagion of covid-19, influenza, and other diseases, so we do not know whether to transfer them to the farms,” said Sevilla.
The union is assessing the idea of starting the cut this Monday 23, but they are waiting for the ground to dry out a bit, for people to feel safer, because there is always the possibility of landslides, and the memories of the misfortunes that have occurred are very fresh in Macizo de Peñas Blancas and in Mulukukú.
Rice is also assured
Other crops have delays, as is the case for peanuts, sugar cane, and rice. Some losses are reported in sesame, an export product, which has the disadvantage of being very susceptible to humidity, despite the fact that Chinandega and León were not so affected by rains, said Munguía.
For sugarcane, a possible impact on agroindustrial performance is reported because there are flooded areas which will delay the harvesting process (mostly mechanized), but a shortage is not expected, because the country produces three times more than it consumes.
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As for rice, it is not expected that there will be an immediate impact on the price to the final consumer, because only a little less than 7000 blocks out of the 110,300 projected for the 2020-2021 cycle are pending to be cultivated, explained Álvaro Vargas, president of Upanic, who recalled that, in the worst case, there is always the option of importing the grain.
Part of those 7000 blocks pending cultivation are in Malacatoya, and although they remain flooded, there is still time to harvest them if the land is drained in time, either naturally or thanks to the efforts that producers are implementing to get rid of these masses of water, he concluded.
This article has been translated by Ana Maria Sampson, a Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam and member of our staff*