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Worst drought in decades hits Brazil’s northeast

Brazil’s northeast is suffering its worst drought in decades, threatening hydro-power supplies in an area prone to blackouts and potentially slowing economic growth in one of the country’s emerging agricultural frontiers.

Lack of rain has hurt corn and cotton crops, left cattle and goats to starve to death in dry pastures and cut sugar cane production by 30 per cent. Thousands of subsistence farmers have seen their livelihoods wither away in recent months as animal carcasses lie abandoned in some areas that have seen almost no rain in two years.

“We are experiencing the worst drought in 50 years, with consequences that could be compared to a violent earthquake,” said Eduardo Salles, agriculture secretary in the northeastern state of Bahia.

Low water levels have hydro dams operating at one-third capacity, setting off alarm bells in a country with a history of energy shortages that crimped economic growth as recently as a decade ago.

President Dilma Rousseff has dismissed talk of an energy crisis, calling the idea of Brazil potentially needing to ration energy “ridiculous.” However, there have been some signs of strain already. In October, the northeast experienced its worst blackout in more than a decade, knocking Bahia state’s important petrochemical industry offline.

Even with likely crop losses in the northeast, Brazil still expects an overall record soybean and strong corn harvest this season thanks to sufficient rainfall over the main centre-west and southern producing areas.

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