In Bolivia’s highlands, where life’s rhythm largely follows the agricultural calendar, a crop emergency is unfolding and pushing families to the brink of hunger, Save the Children said.
One staple is a particular victim – the potato – which is now under threat in the region due to recent erratic weather patterns and changing climate conditions, according to a news article published by ReliefWeb.
For generations, potatoes have been an agricultural lifeline in the high-altitude region of Potosí, Bolivia, where few other plants survive 3,700m above sea level. The hardy crop, first farmed in the South American Andes some 8,000 years ago, is versatile and well suited for the region’s rugged terrain.
Over the past few months, Bolivia, like much of South America, has been sweltering under a “heat dome”, causing temperatures in the country to soar to a staggering 45°C – unprecedented during the winter. In August, Bolivia recorded the highest winter temperature in the Southern Hemisphere; last week, Save the Children reported that more than half the country was in drought.
Severe drought in Potosí, of the six of Bolivia’s departments experiencing drought, has reduced water flow by a third, dropping from 180 litres per second to a mere 60 litres per second. Many families in the highlands currently do not have access to water daily, while some get it only once a week. The lack of rain and access to water have meant that farmers are unable to water their crops.
Silvia, a mother of five living in the region of Potosí, lost most of her potato harvest this year due to dry, hot weather, coupled with an untimely frost. What she did manage to harvest only sustained her family for a few weeks, leaving them without potatoes until her next harvest. Silvia said:
“[It’s been] very hot and when it is hot, potatoes don’t grow because the soil is burning, and the potatoes get cooked. We live off the crops we plant but when crops don’t grow, we don’t have food to eat. We have to buy [food], but we [don’t have enough] money because there’s not much work here. This is a remote place. [Before], I could provide everything for my children: clothes, school supplies, food, and electricity. But now, almost everything I do is not enough.”
This year’s poor harvest is contributing to a significant rise in vegetables prices, with Silvia spending about 50% of her income on food as she is unable to grow enough herself.
Silvia’s family has been living off the land for generations. Her mother Eugenia, 73, added that this year’s circumstances are unprecedented, explaining “there is no rain anymore; this is one of the worst harvests I have had in my life.”
As temperatures continue to soar in South America, the return of El Niño this year looms large, potentially bringing more intense weather extremes and a rise in temperatures, exacerbating the already accelerating impacts of the climate crisis.