CR 09:1-7 (1997)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/cr009001

Vulnerability of the agricultural sector of Latin America to climate change

Walter E. Baethgen*

International Fertilizer Development Centre (Latin America), Javier Barrios Amorín 870, Piso 3, Montevideo, Uruguay

The vulnerability of the agricultural sector in any region to future possible climate-change scenarios is determined to a great extent by the vulnerability of the sector to current climatic, economic and policy scenarios. Agricultural systems which are currently subject to extreme climatic interannual variability (drought, flood, storms, etc.) are likely to become even more vulnerable under the most commonly expected scenarios of climate change (i.e. increased temperatures, increased rainfall variability). Similarly, agricultural systems which are currently subject to drastic changes in economic and policy scenarios are also prone to become more vulnerable under expected climate-change conditions. The agricultural sector of Latin America has been subject to important variations in economical conditions and policies. These conditions have affected the structure of agricultural production, and resulted in a large reduction of the number of small farmers, who have migrated to poor metropolitan areas. Even for larger, commercial farmers, unstable and often inconsistent agricultural policies have increased the vulnerability of the sector. Additionally, large areas of Latin America are already affected by current interannual climatic variability related to the length of rainy seasons and the occurrence of extreme events (droughts, floods, etc.). The few studies conducted in the region to specifically assess the impact of climate change on agriculture have revealed expected reductions and increased variability in crop productivity. Similar results should be expected in the vast regions devoted to livestock production, since the systems are based on a fragile balance of nutrients, available water, stocking rates and pasture species. The characteristics of the current situation described in this article demonstrate the vulnerability of Latin American agriculture to climate change. Preparing the agricultural sector to mitigate the potential negative effects of climate change will require strong and consistent efforts in both the scientific and policy sectors of the region.


Climate change · Latin America · Agriculture · Vulnerability · Policy · Economics


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