SANTIAGO — The El Niño weather phenomenon will last at least through the first half of 2024, according to the latest United Nations forecasts, with abnormal rainfall due across Latin America raising fears for the agricultural sector.

Pacific sea surface temperatures soared in recent months, “with stronger warming along the South American coast,” said the report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) accessed by Reuters.

Forecasts for the first quarter of 2024 show more rain than usual in southern cone countries such as Peru and Ecuador, as well as Mexico, alongside ongoing dry conditions in Brazil, Guyana and Suriname.

The current dry spell in Central America, however, is set to last only until the end of this year. The report also stresses that agriculture, which includes crops, livestock, forests and fishing, is particularly vulnerable given the sector can absorb 26% of economic losses during extreme weather conditions and up to 82% during drought.

Key fish species like anchovies and tuna on the northern coast of Peru and southern Ecuador are particularly at risk, it said.

Ecuadorian fishermen reported a 30% decrease in tuna catching since February, it said. The El Niño and its opposing La Niña weather patterns have impacted the production of key crops such as wheat, rice and corn in Latin America, which are highly dependent on raw materials.

Extreme conditions brought by El Niño are hitting the region, which is also simultaneously facing climate change effects such as heat waves, the report said.

The FAO said it has launched a plan to mobilize financial resources for vulnerable communities in several countries affected by the extreme weather. — Reuters