Orivaldo Brunini Pedro Leite Da Silva Dias Alice M Grimm Eduardo Delgado Assad And Vijendra K Boken

Latin America encompasses a vast territory between 12°30'N and 55°30'S latitude and between 29°W and 82°W longitude. This subcontinent has 13 countries with complex climatic conditions. Extremely humid weather is typical closer to the equator, while semiarid, arid, and desertic conditions prevail in the Bolivian and Chilean high plains (figure 12.1).

The wide variation in climatic conditions leads to distinct agricultural conditions across Latin America. For example, forests, equatorial fruits, and perennial vegetation exist throughout the Amazonian region. Farther from the equator, toward the Andes and at higher latitudes, there is a noticeable change in agricultural systems. There is a greater emphasis on growing cereal/grain crops in Argentina and Brazil.

The countries that compose the Amazon River basin experience a higher amount of annual precipitation, and drought is not a characteristic phenomenon there, except during high-intensity El Niño years (Marengo et al., 2001). In contrast, drought is a regular event commonly observed in parts of Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina (Scian and Donnari, 1996), Uruguay, and Brazil. The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the most arid regions on the earth, where the average annual precipitation is as low as 0.8 mm in Arika or even 0.5 mm in other regions of this desert.

Figure 12.2 provides a more detailed description on climatic conditions of Brazil. Although the average annual precipitation in the northeastern region is less than 300 mm, it exceeds 2500 mm in some other regions of Brazil (Grimm, 2003). Agricultural operations take place during the rainy season (March-October). The northeast region is drought prone, but the central, west, and southeast regions are traditionally grain-producing regions. In the northeast and central-west regions, water deficiency is higher, which seriously affects food production. Table 12.1 shows production losses in Brazil due to climate anomalies including droughts that occurred

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Figure 12.1 Spatial distribution of climatic regions of South America (http://www.fao.org).

during 1978-1986 (Mota, 1979) and 1991-1994 (Rossetti, 2001). About 33% (about 50% in the northeast region) of these losses were attributed to droughts. Maize production also significantly declined due to drought that occurred during 1990-91, 1993-94, 1996-97, and 1997-98 (figure 12.3).

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