Chile has had alarmingly low levels of rainfall because of the drought it's experiencing and the agricultural sector is having to take these low levels into account in its projections for the season. "In a year with no drought, the fruit sector could have exported more than 7.1 billion dollars. However, we believe the country will export 8% less because of the drought reaching just over 6.5 billion dollars. Only cherry and hazelnuts will show growth, with many orchards entering production, which will increase shipments abroad,” stated Cristian Allendes Marin, the president of the National Agricultural Society (SNA).
"The most similar year to 2021 in terms of rainfall is 2019, which was a particularly dry year," he said. Back then, exports fell by 13% and the primary domestic product of the entire forestry and livestock sector fell by 1.5%.
The water crisis is intensifying in the center and north of the country, where various basins are in a situation of alert and facing their worst scenario since 2019. Producers might stop hiring a lot of labor due to the lack of water, affecting even more the hiring of labor in agriculture, which has already been affected by the pandemic, Allendes stated. However, he said, producers are better prepared to face the drought than in 2019, a year that was particularly tough for the sector, so the impact should be somewhat lower.
“We, the producers, have been resilient to the different climate change scenarios. In this context, we have constantly worked to improve and maintain the accumulation, conduction of irrigation systems, canal lining, and modernization of the canals, among other things. Since these situations will continue to recur, we must seek access to public and private funds to continue implementing these short-term solutions.”
In the medium and long term, the authorities must streamline regulations to advance in medium accumulation works, such as medium reservoirs, artificial recharge of aquifers, research and sustainable exploitation of underground water, desalination, and even water transfer, he added. "We urgently need the State to get more involved and to make investments to help neutralize this increasingly great problem."
According to Allendes, if the lack of rainfall continues, the Copiapo river basins up to the Sixth Region and part of the Seventh Region will be compromised and producers would face difficult moments and shortages starting this month. "The rains in August helped fill the soils with water, prolong the irrigation for more days, and accumulate some reserves. However, in face of the accumulated water deficit we have, the amount of water that fell was insufficient to irrigate the agricultural products throughout the entire summer," he stressed.