El Nino

As if Saskatchewan didn’t have enough on its plate with all the changes and transitions in the energy sector – one of the cornerstones of the province’s economy. Now, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), we should also look deeper into what is going to happen the in agricultural sector – another vital part of the Prairieland budget.  

At the end of 2018, the WMO has reported the possibility of a new full-fledged El Nino – a recurrent global atmospheric-oceanic phenomenon, which comes with an increase in sea surface temperatures in the central tropical Pacific Ocean (the UN) – is as high as 75-80 per cent. They predict El Nino will happen by February. And American meteorologists, with 90 per cent confidence, state that it will begin as soon as this month. 

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I’m not going to bore you with numerous details on this natural phenomenon. I’ll mention just a few, for clarity. El Nino reoccurs every two to seven years. And what’s important is this anomaly does not only affect the Pacific Ocean region, but it also changes the weather all over the world. It brings excessive rains and flooding to some parts of Latin America, and curses regions of Africa and Asia with droughts, wildfires and heat waves. Quite often it results in enormously high temperatures.

The 1997-98 El Nino was a disaster, so was the 2015-2016 one. The WMO doesn’t expect to see anything as bad as then. And after all, Canada is not on the list of countries, which will experience the negative influence of the phenomenon. But what actually will El Nino mean for Canada in general and for Saskatchewan in particular?

Let’s fantasize. As it always is with weather fluctuations, farmers are the main ones to pray about it and the first ones to struggle from what Mother Nature brings us.

So far scientists predict a good harvest for most of Canada and the U.S., but does it mean that we are safe when it comes to global disasters?

The 2019 El Nino may drastically affect the precipitation level and temperatures in various regions, in that way, causing disturbance in agricultural processes and putting a number of countries at risk of lack of food supplies. In the globally interconnected world, a lack of food in one country doesn’t go unnoticed and may strongly affect the international trade system.

Back when I was in university, in one of the class books I read that even a one-degree increase in temperatures in southern countries may be enough for a war. If droughts destroy fertile land, people are forced to flee this evolving desert, seeking food and asylum in more fortunate neighboring states. Mass migration caused by the extremely poor yields may result in hundreds of thousands of forced migrants – homeless, poor, starving, and fighting for survival. And no matter what made them move, they are usually unwelcome.

So if Canada and the U.S. have a rich harvest this year, whom will those in need turn their heads to? We know how the neighbour state is when it comes to immigrants. So chances are, it will be up to the Canadian government to decide to help or not to help.

A decision to help may cause strong disturbance within the country, since the higher demand may affect the inner retail prices. Refusal to help may bring the global disturbance to a boiling point. Besides, grain prices may fall into a nosedive if Canada loses big international grain buyers, which won’t be able to keep up with the free market prices.

This may hit either farmers, or taxpayers, should the government decide to support the producers. One way or another, Canadians will notice the aftermath of the El Nino as well as the rest of the world.

These are just two possible scenarios. There are many more, and within a month we will be able to see, what nature has for us. I know, it all may sound a little bit too much, but check out history books. There is nothing new. We are humans; we need food, water and shelter to survive. And when we lack those, the drive to meet basic needs becomes irresistible.

In the meantime, I think it makes sense to take the WMO forecasts into consideration to some extent when planning the 2019-seeding season. If El Nino gets its way disturbing Asian, African and South American agricultural markets, some crops traditionally supplied by those regions may become much more treasurable.


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