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Severe drought in Argentina ravages farmers and economy, threatens livelihoods

Once full of life, these enormous plants now suffer, dropping branches with each passing hour. The vibrant bushes have faded into mere outlines, and the ground, once teeming with life, has turned to dirt.

  • 1 month ago
  • June 15, 2024
5 min read
In La Adela, Argentina, a severe drought has significantly impacted the region's grasslands, livestock, and local economy. | Photo courtesy of Antonia Ochandorena In La Adela, Argentina, a severe drought has significantly impacted the region's grasslands, livestock, and local economy. | Photo courtesy of Antonia Ochandorena
María Antonia Ochandorena, president of the Rural Association of the South Pampas, Argentina
JOURNALIST’S NOTES
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
María Antonia Ochandorena, 70, is a pillar in the cattle world. With her siblings, she runs the San José cattle ranch in La Adela, Argentina. She also serves as president of the Rural Association of the South Pampas, an organization that has more than 640 associated producers. Her hometown is Rio Colorado, but she represents the entire region. During her presidency since 2019, she has faced challenges on behalf of the cattle ranchers including the COVID-19 Pandemic, fires, and now the worst drought in recent decades in the region.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Argentina‘s already fragile economy faces a severe blow due to two years of unusually dry weather, exacerbating the challenges for farmers struggling to make ends meet. According to the country’s National Weather Service, Argentina endured its hottest summer since 1961, with Buenos Aires experiencing record temperatures since records began in 1906. This scorching weather has left farmers scrambling to figure out how to sustain their operations amidst a sharp drop in expected revenue from exported farm products.

LA ADELA, Argentina — As I walk alone in silence along the countryside roads, a panorama greets me. We each step, the scene changes. The first few kilometers reveal lush vegetation, signaling hope for animal and plant life recovery. However, as I venture further into La Adela [a village in La Pampa province], the scenery shifts dramatically. Now, the drought has left the landscape dry, littered with the remains of animals and plants that succumbed to its effects.

The trees, though still standing, lose their color and vitality. They dry out, shedding their branches daily in a testament to their struggle. Once full of life, these enormous plants now suffer, dropping branches with each passing hour. The vibrant bushes have faded into mere outlines, and the ground, once teeming with life, has turned to dirt. Consequently, the lack of grass forces the animals to survive on what little the trees can spare. 

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Severe drought devastates grasslands, livestock, and local economy 

Since 2022, we have grappled with a severe drought in La Adela that worsened in 2023 and continues to challenge us. Normally, our grasslands thrive with an annual rainfall of 650 to 700 millimeters, but the recent scarcity of rain leaves the land parched. The grass, once vital for our livestock, stopped growing. This causes a decline in animal health and weight, negatively impacting the local economy.

Producers from Buenos Aires began abandoning their fields upon witnessing the dire conditions. As the risk to livestock escalated and potential losses mounted, workers also began to leave. The landscape, once abundant with pastures for grazing and breeding cattle, drastically transformed. Thankfully, the chañar trees in the area, which produce bean-like fruits, have provided some sustenance for the surviving animals, though they are underweight.

We, the locals, observe the current state of the region with deep sympathy. The cracked, dry earth is a somber sight, reminding us of the initial wave of significant cattle mortality. Non-local producers have relocated their herds in search of greener pastures to salvage their investments. Meanwhile, we faced the tough decision of selling off our livestock and depleting our capital, starting with the breeders, to mitigate further losses.

Farmer loses 300 cows, grapples with dire mental state 

For years, we nurtured and cared for livestock, and our bond with these animals grew stronger. Unfortunately, amidst the drought, we expedited processes, sold off the young, and isolated the breeders to ensure their survival. We made these difficult decisions to preserve the animals we have for future breeding.

I now face the most challenging phase of this ordeal. As a producer first and the president of “La Rural” (The Rural Association), I bear the weight of my role. I represent my fellow producers, listen to their distress, and hear their shared stories. Each person brings unique struggles, and in these trying times, they all seek support. The agricultural community faces an unprecedented crisis, but I remain hopeful that we will persevere. 

The South Pampas Rural Association, based in La Adela, La Pampa province, near Rio Negro, aids drought-affected farmers. | Photo courtesy of Antonia Ochandorena

A farmer, once the proud caretaker of 800 animals, now finds himself in a dire mental state. Over the past year, he suffered the heartbreaking loss of nearly a third of his herd, equating to 300 cows. Despite his relentless efforts to save the breeding cows, he is repeatedly confronted with the harsh reality of insufficient fodder. At the age of 64, he devoted his entire life to farming, pouring his soul into the land he loved. Today, however, helplessness grips him as he fears he may not salvage his life’s work. Yet, in this plight, he is not alone as we all share the same despair.

Facing drought: unity, hope, and a plea for divine intervention 

Despite deep sadness and concern, we persist with hope in our community. Climate complications force us to sell our working capital, accelerating every process to meet people’s needs, and we witness the death of our animals. Nonetheless, we refuse to lose hope, keeping it tangible even when morale deteriorates.

This is not our first encounter with drought; we experienced a similar surprise between 2008 and 2009. Back then, we reduced our herd from over 200 cows to a mere 70. We suffered, yet we managed to recover. We allowed the calves to grow into breeders, and through perseverance, we found success. 

The lessons from that time are clear: we rebuilt once, and with this recurring drought, we know we cannot relent. We must continue to fight for what remains, ready to start anew with less if necessary. A little rain will open the door to resurgence, a possibility we eagerly await. We need it not just as a desire but as a necessity. While the situation is intense, we accept this reality and commit to persevering. Together, we call upon divine grace, asking God and the Virgin to bring rain and revive our lands and spirits. 

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Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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