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Why there are no more rainbows in Pernambuco, Brazil

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 1st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Farmers in northeastern Brazil are struggling to survive, and perhaps none are struggling as much as the dairy farmers. A second consecutive year of extreme drought has forced many out of business and others are on the brink of collapse. It has rained only once this season.


BRASILIA, BRAZIL (Catholic Online) - Without rain to water grass, cattle are starving and dying in great numbers across northeastern Brazil, particularly in Pernambuco state.

Pernambuco is a long, narrow state that enjoys a short coastline on the Atlantic. A few hundred miles to the east, there's plenty of rain on the coast, but inland the people are reliant on seasonal thunderstorms to provide the water they need to survive. Ironically, the state flag features a rainbow.

Yet, there have been no rainbows in Pernambuco for awhile as drought continues to choke the land. The drought is among the most extreme ever experienced by farmers in the region, with only one notable occurrence of rainfall in the past year.

Many small ranchers are members of local cooperatives which produce milk, different kinds of cheeses, and yogurt. The dairy industry is large and vast with cowherds stretching across the state. However, those herds are thinning.

The drought has dried up all of the natural vegetation which would provide food for the herds. Ranchers must now pay out-of-pocket to obtain feed for their cattle, an expense some cannot pay. The result is starving cows and folding businesses.

Cattle buyers are offering well below market prices for the region's cattle, making it even more difficult for farmers to stay afloat. They cannot sell parts of their starving herds for enough money to feed the rest, forcing difficult decisions.

In all, dairy production is anywhere from one-half to one-quarter of normal.

The drought is caused by the cooling of water in the south Atlantic. Warm waters bring thunderstorms, but cooler waters suppress them.

The region is susceptible to drought, and the ranchers know this. Wise and experienced ranchers know they need to be ready to sustain a dry year from time to time. However, a drought that surpasses two years is unusual, and it is unlikely any of the small dairy farmers can survive a third.

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