De la Isla: Drought worries on both sides of U.S. border

Tony Frost, of Frost Farms, surveys a pond Tony Frost, of Frost Farms, surveys a pond in the cattle pasture that serves as the water source for his cattle that has nearly dried up in Tallula, Ill. After months of drought, the central Illinois creeks and ponds that the 300 cows and calves drink from on the farm are dry or close to it. (Aug. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: AP Photo Seth Perlman

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A New York Times opinion piece paints extreme weather as the century's biggest challenge. Drought, record heat, floods and fires are part of human-induced climate change and will only become more frequent, researchers Christopher Schwalm, Christoper Williams and Kevin Schaefer wrote in an op-ed published Sunday.

The drought affects about 75 percent of the United States. That's a concern for Mexico, our North American Free Trade Agreement partner, which depends on U.S. agriculture production.

Tree-ring chronologies from long-term climate records show the western U.S. drought is already the most severe of the past 800 years. It will exceed the 1930s-era Dust Bowl with more consecutive dry years.

Less rainfall is expected in the U.S. West in each of the next 80 years than the annual average level during the drought of 2000 through 2004, the op-ed continues. Schwalm (an earth scientist), Williams (a geographer) and Schaefer (a National Snow and Ice Data Center scientist) analyzed that extreme drought in a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Climatologists say we will experience reduced agricultural productivity, scarcer water resources and carbon sequestration (plants turning carbon into oxygen). The climatologists previously reported in a scientific journal that drought already has halved the amount of carbon dioxide they normally photosynthesize.

OK, that's enough to scare any of us who studied biology out of our wits. But there's more.

Major river basins show flow reductions of 5 to 50 percent. Western crop yields are down by 13 percent, with many local cases of crop failure.

U.S. corn production could fall to its lowest level in 17 years. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization reported the severe deterioration of U.S. maize crop prospects, as drought damage pushed up the price of maize almost 23 percent in July. Soy was up in June and July 30 percent.

Mexico's own food sustainability gave way to free trade and industrialization as people left the farms to earn better wages. A large swatch of their territory has dried to a crisp and production in corn declined, giving way to maize and objectionable genetically-modified corn imports. Grazing animals have suffered, because they feed on pastures that rely on rain and irrigation water in the country's northern and central portions.

The new international price levels for U.S. corn and soybeans represent at least a short-term strain on Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, which depend on U.S. food imports.

This comes at a time when the Food and Agriculture Organization has reduced its world estimates for rice production, mainly because of insufficient rainfall in Asia and the insular Pacific.

Mexico will have to increase grain imports, possibly from South America.

The Mexico City daily La Jornada reviewed Mexican agriculture policy since the start of NAFTA and found that farm and ranch productivity and sustainability goals in some products will not hold. "The country finds itself running the risk of famine," it editorialized.

The editorial writers imply that, as in the United States, ignoring the drought -- pretending it isn't there, offering fantasy scenarios and knee-slapping rhetoric while killing time to get past the next election -- is not addressing the challenge.

People are starting to hunger -- both for food security and for more responsive politicians.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email joseisla3@yahoo.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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