Drought on the Guatemalan south coast alarms the sugar industry

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By LatAm Reports Editorial Team

An alert yesterday declared the sugar agro-industrial sector in Guatemala, due to current weather conditions due to the El Niño phenomenon on the south coast, and there is already talk of lower yields in sugar production in the harvest that ends next May.

The Association of Sugar Farmers of Guatemala (Asazgua) issued a statement of “alert” in the face of the critical lack of rain, which has forced to take a series of actions to achieve the production objectives of the current harvest, a period that begins in November and ends in May of the following year with the arrival of winter.

This is the first agro-industrial sector in the country to express its alarm about the drought that has caused a decrease of the main tributaries that supply water to the plantations, so the most immediate action was to completely stop irrigation operations in areas where the problem is more severe, said Luis Miguel Paiz, general manager of the said association.

The presence of El Niño has led to the increase in temperature, decreases of rains and consequently a severe drought, impacting the agro-industry of sugar cane, it was explained, adding that the rain is the main source of water of the cane cultivation and in 2023 there was a drastic reduction, affecting the development of the plants and therefore the expected yield.

Impact

Álvaro Ruiz, vice president of Asazgua, explained to Prensa Libre that in this harvest the greatest negative impact comes from the drought of 2023 and cited as an example, that sugar production is lower than normal and the most affected growing region is the one that is close to the coast.

He then reported that, on a general level, there is a reduction of eight quintals per hectare (ha) or 3.25% less, while the coastline has a decrease of 17.2 quintals per year compared to last year (7% less).

The reed of this harvest is drying up quickly and that is a real effect. You go through the cane and they’re not even yellow anymore, but coffee. In the end, what will happen this year is less sugar production, at the country level, he said.

In quantitative terms, the expected production for harvesting 2022-2023 is 2 million 608 thousand 400 metric tons (56 million 714 quintals), which could fall by 104, 336 metric tons or 2 million 268 thousand 500 quintals.

Local supply, but less export

Regarding the satisfaction of the local needs of the sweetener, Ruiz said that in Guatemala there will be no sugar shortage and the supply is guaranteed because the production capacity is sufficient to cover the local market.

What is expected to be a decrease in exports, which is not only happening in Guatemala, but throughout the continent because of climatic conditions, which is also causing a global sugar deficit.

“Locally we are not going to have problems; the supply is guaranteed and what is going to happen is that exports will fall,” Ruiz said.

He indicated that in international negotiations, ingenuities are always careful not to market all their production and there is always an unsold percentage left. So you leave a part, anticipating such situations and when there is confidence that more production will be available, more blocks are awarded. In any case, he assured that there will be no breach with the buyers.

The vice president of Asazgua reiterated that, with regard to the grinding of cane, the ingenuities are very close to the normal capacity and have not stopped production. The problem is that the grind cane has less sugar than usual. So the harvest would be culminating in May, but with a smaller production.

Future effects

Ruiz acknowledged that the current drought situation will also have effects on the next harvest, because although forecasts indicate that there will be a lot of rain after the second half of the calendar year – and that will cause crops to begin to recover, there will be some abnormality in the next year.

We are going to rip off the harvest on the same dates and most likely, the reed we start grinding with is the one that didn’t receive enough water, and there will probably be less sugar, but if in the end the forecast is met that it will rain enough in the second half of the year, the reed for the next harvest is likely to be quite fine, and the cane of the first half, has effects like this year’s, he warned.

Water deficit

According to Asazgua, there has not been enough water to allow the cane crops to develop enough to produce the expected sugar.

At the moment it is considered that there have been two consecutive years of few rains, since in 2023 there were areas that had a rainfall decrease of 30% and in others it was detected up to -80%. Therefore, in 2024 the water deficit continues.

Since 2016 there is a technical table in which several sectors participate and a permanent monitoring is done from the tributaries until the water reaches the mouth of the rivers, but at the end of January and beginning of February, they were all below the historical minimum, so measures began to be taken to reduce water consumption, but it has already reached the critical point, where the rivers are about to dry.

Performances

Performance information by growing area from November 2022 to 10 March 2023:

Average agribusiness performance per hectare, harvest 2022-2023: 250 quintals.

Average return of agro-industry per hectare on the coast, harvests 2022-2023: 260 quintals.

In the current harvest, there is a reduction of eight quintals per hectare, or 3.25% less.

The current harvest on the coast shows a reduction of 17.2 quintals, equivalent to 7% less.

Among the measures being taken is the significant reduction and suspension of operation of some areas.

The sector is concerned that at the end of the harvest, there are no rains as is normally the case, which could also affect the supply of electricity. 

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in Prensa Libre