The worst drought in 80 years has left the Cantareira system, that provides greater São Paulo with most of its water, with the lowest water level on record, with daily rationing becoming common in the region's smaller cities, according to the state authorities. Photo: Reuters

BRASILIA, Brazil, 24 January 2015 (Australian News.Net) – Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira has told the media following a crisis meeting at the presidential palace in Brasilia that the country is experiencing its worst drought since 1930.

The states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais are the worst affected, she said after an emergency meeting in the capital, Brasilia and insisted that they must do more to use less water.

Describing the water crisis as "delicate" and "worrying", Teixeira said that the country had never faced a water crisis of this magnitude.

Industry and agriculture are expected to be impacted, further damaging Brazil's troubled economy, with energy supplies also expected to be interrupted due to reduced generation from hydroelectric dams.

Brazil is supposed to be in the middle of its rainy season, but there has been very little rainfall in the south-east and the drought shows no sign of abating.

"Since records for Brazil's south-eastern region began 84 years ago we have never seen such a delicate and worrying situation," said Teixeira after the emergency meeting with five other ministers at the presidential palace in Brasilia.

São Paulo is at the epicenter of the crisis, where hundreds of thousands of residents have been affected by frequent cuts in water supplies, the state suffered similar serious drought problems last year, but water levels are now at their lowest levels on record.

Governor Geraldo Alckmin has taken several measures, such as raising charges for high consumption levels and offering discounts to those who reduce use.

He has also limited the amounts captured by industries and agriculture from rivers, but critics blame poor planning and politics for the deteriorating situation.

Opposition parties say state authorities failed to respond quickly enough to the crisis because Alckmin did not want to alarm people during a re-election bid in October 2014, allegations he disputes.

In Rio de Janeiro state, the main water reservoir has dropped to level zero for the first time and Environment Secretary Andre Correa acknowledged that the state was experiencing "the worst water crisis in its history".

Correa described the situation in São Paulo as "infinitely worse". Rio and Minas Gerais are asking residents and industries to reduce water consumption by as much as 30%. [more]

Environment minister Teixeira says Brazil drought is worst on record


RIO DE JANEIRO, 11 January 2015 (AFP) – Brazil's coffee harvest last year was hit by one the country's worst droughts in decades, with effects on the world's largest producer now threatening to spill over into this year, pushing prices ever higher.

Brazil's 290,000 growers produce around a third of the world's coffee - out-producing the country's nearest competitor, Vietnam, by more than three times.

But last year's total yield was down 7.7 per cent from 2013 and well below initial forecasts, the ministry of agriculture said this week.

Production of high grade arabica slumped even more drastically, by 15 per cent.

The falling production has sent prices soaring, with arabica up by half in 2014 and expected to keep increasing this year.

A pound of arabica for March delivery was fetching around US$1.77 (S$2.37) on New York's ICE Futures US market Thursday, compared to around US$1.06 a year earlier.

Unlike many crops that are replanted and harvested each year, coffee is grown in a two-year cycle. So initial predictions for 2014, made before the drought took hold, had initially forecast a much stronger harvest.

"This harvest was all set to be a bumper one, given many plantations were new and cultivators had invested to increase productivity," said Gil Barabach of Safras & Mercado specialist news agency.

"At the end of 2013 we expected production to hit 60 to 65 million sacks," Barabach said.

The final total, measured in 60-kilogram bags, was actually just 45.3 million, thanks in large part to severe rain shortages in south and central south Brazil, the country's main production centres, that stretched from the first weeks of last year through November.

"Annual rainfall normally comes in at between 1,600 millimeters (63 inches) to 1,800 millimeters," said Paulo Sergio Elias, a spokesman for a coffee growing cooperative of some 3,000 producers in Minas Gerais, north of Sao Paulo and Rio states.

But rainfall last year "didn't even reach 900 millimeters," Elias said.

The drought had a particularly severe impact because "it happened from January and February, just as the beans were growing larger and ripening," Elias explained.

"It will also affect the productive potential of this coming year as plant reserves are too weak to ensure the development of future fruit," he added.

In other words, given coffee's two-year growing cycle, the effects of last year's stunted growth will be seen in the bean yield over the next 12 months.

"The plants expended a huge amount of energy in enduring the lack of water and high temperatures," Elias said.

"As a result, the branches are shorter than usual and hence will bear less grains. Buds are also lacking in the clusters." Production was further hit last year by frost in the southern state of Parana. The region's harvest slumped by two-thirds over 2013, according to national supply company Conab.

Plantations of lower grade robusta in regions less affected by drought saw their harvests rise 20 per cent - but their yield only accounts for a third of national production. [more]

Brazil drought brews trouble for coffee market

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