Exceptional drought conditions in Brazil, week of 18 February 2014. Graphc: NOAA /  mongabay.com

25 February 2014 (mongabay.com) – With more than 140 cities implementing water rationing, analysts warning of collapsing soy and coffee exports, and reservoirs and rivers running precipitously low, talk about the World Cup in some parts of Brazil has been sidelined by concerns about an epic drought affecting the country's agricultural heartland.

With its rise as an agricultural superpower over the past 20 years, Brazil is today the world's largest exporter of coffee, sugar, oranges, soy, and cattle. That means the drought will take a bite out of the country's already flagging economic growth. But the worst may be yet to come if climate projections prove accurate: forecasts are for hotter and drier conditions going forward.

"The regions where we plant coffee today, especially the ones on lower elevations, will be getting hotter," Hilton Silveira Pinto of EMBRAPA, Brazil's government agency for agriculture, told NPR. "And many of the coffee plantations in these areas will probably have to be abandoned."

"By 2020, we will lose 20 to 22 percent of our soybean crop. It will also affect corn, cassava, many of our Brazilian crops."

Research suggests the forecasts could become even more dire if the Amazon rainforest — which plays a critical role in local and regional rainforest — tips toward drier conditions. Several studies predict that the combination of forest loss and climate change could conspire to tip large areas in the southern Amazon from rainforest toward savanna habitat, reducing rainfall. Already the region has experienced two of the most severe droughts on record — in 2005 and 2010. [more]

Is Brazil's epic drought a taste of the future?



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