Uruguay declared on Monday an agriculture emergency and announced measures to help farmers address the very serious rain deficit which is threatening crops, livestock and the provision of fresh produce. The package includes importing fodder and cow feed for dairy farms as well as postponing tax and social security payments, and energy bills.
The announcements were made Monday mid day following an emergency meeting of the Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez with the ministers of Agriculture and Finance, when it was admitted that the situation was "far worse" than originally believed and was officially informed only a week ago. "We're going through an agriculture emergency particularly severe in certain areas of the country", said Agriculture and Livestock minister Ernesto Agazzi, following the top level meeting. Until only a week ago Minister Agazzi had downplayed the intensity of the prolonged drought which has limited summer crops, has killed livestock in overcrowded paddocks with insufficient pasture and water, and scorched land. This time Agazzi went further and said that the forecast is that "the drought is going to be with us for a long time" and admitted that his belief that rainfall in the coming days would be sufficient to cover the humidity deficit in the soil and water shortage in ponds and wells "were dead wrong" "We admit there's a new situation that needs to be addressed", he said and announced a package of measures to help "prevent and mitigate" the effects of the drought. Agazzi said that resources from a special Agriculture Emergency Fund would be used to purchase forage and cow feed for distribution among "small farmers and family farms" via soft loans repayable when the situation and conditions improve. Similarly small fresh vegetable and fruit farmers will be aided with funds from a special emergency fund created last year mainly for the drilling of wells and building of water reservoirs. Agazzi also promised to meet with elected governors and officials from Social Security and the electricity company (a government monopoly in Uruguay) to request they freeze and postpone payment of land taxes, pension contributions and energy bills. The head of one of the Uruguayan largest farmers' organizations Octacilio Echenagusía described the decisions as "positive" and praised the minister for having admitted "a mistake when he underestimated the impact of the drought". "This is war on water shortage and lack of rain, so we must be united to confront the challenge", underlined Echenagusía. Uruguay's annual average rainfall is in the range of 1.000 to 1.2000 millimetres but in the last twelve months it has been closer to 700/750 mm, with special incidence in the intensive farming area, dairy and cereals