Colombia’s Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo on Wednesday called for an emergency budget in the face of the El Niño weather phenomenon, which is expected to hit Colombia in the coming weeks.
The minister said that the $55 million assigned for the potential emergency in the 2013 budget might not be enough to support farmers in the face of the expected climate change that will increase temperatures and decrease rainfall across the country.
“The department projects that if the summer comes with the force that is forecast, this money won’t come close to what is going to be necessary,” said Restrepo, who called for reserves of between $333 million and $444 million to be put aside for the pending disaster.
“It is best to be on top of things and not to be lacking money. The time we have could be short,” warned Restrepo.
The minister confirmed that the Colombian government had studied the possibility of importing goods before the eventual shortage which will have the biggest effect on production of vegetables, horticulture and dairy.
Some regions of the country are already feeling the effect of El Niño, said the minister, referring to the forest fires which have scorched more than 40,000 acres of land since June.
The minister announced that an emergency program of animal food and subsidies would be rolled out in the southwest of the country over the next few days where the dry weather is expected to have the most serious effect.
Restrepo recommended that food for animals be stored and water should be used efficiently, especially in areas of crops more susceptible to drought. The minister also called for farmers to buy insurance to secure against climatic risk, while agricultural unions recommended farmers take out collective policies.
The president of the Colombian Agricultural Society said that the prices of agricultural goods would rise due to lack of production caused by water shortages towards the end of the year, while the Bogota supplies corporation said that they had already begun to register a reduction in the availability of products such as rice and potatoes, with prices for the same increasing.
In the past 60 years, Colombia has been affected by El Niño 13 times and this year the Caribbean, Pacific, and Andean regions are expected to be hit the worst.
The weather phenomenon usually occurs every five years and is caused by unusually high sea temperatures in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean coupled with high air surface pressure in the tropical western Pacific.
A report by the Climate Prediction Center called an El Niño alert on Monday identifying the sea surface temperatures as 0.5 degrees Celsius above average and strengthening anomalies near the coast of South America, indicating that El Niño conditions are likely to develop.