The government of the Argentine province of Neuquen declared a state of agricultural emergency on Thursday to aid towns where falling ash from Chile's erupting volcano is endangering livestock and hurting tourism, the Associated Press reported.
The emergency follows a similar measure by the national government in other parts of Patagonia where agriculture has been hard-hit by the volcanic ash cloud.
When the volcano across the border in Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain erupted on June 4 after being dormant for decades, it sent a towering plume of ash into the sky, forcing the cancelation of hundreds of flights as far away as Australia, Reuters reported.
Now, as air traffic gradually gets back to normal, residents of Patagonian towns are without electricity and water and fearing for livestock left without grazing pasture and covered in ash.
About 60 per cent of Argentina’s wool production comes from Patagonia, and a farm association is warning that as many as a million sheep in the region, prized for its luxury wool, could suffer and maybe die as a result of the ash dump, according to the Financial Times.
Roberto Fernández Speroni, of the Rural Society in Tierra del Fuego in Argentina’s far south, said that as much as $40 million could be lost in wool production and about the same again in lost meat. Patagonia is also famed for its roast lamb dishes, according to the Financial Times:
“The sheep have got 2 kg to 3 kg of ash on them. Many are pregnant. When it rains, the ash forms a kind of cement. They can’t walk, so they just lie down and die – there’s no alternative,” he says.
“It’s devastating for farmers to see their fields turned into a great Sahara desert, and this, on the back of four years of drought. Farmers were hoping for a recovery this year and then the ashes started falling,” he adds.
Farmers are also battling to get fodder to the animals, which are unable to graze pastures buried under as much as one foot of ash, according to Reuters. Newspapers have shown dead sheep lying in ash-covered fields.
The ash has made it difficult to drive safely on roads, and the eruption came just as resorts in the mountain towns were preparing for ski season, the Associated Press said. And local airports are still closed and hotels have few guests in San Carlos de Bariloche, one of Argentina's most important tourist destinations and a favorite with Brazilian visitors, according to Reuters:
"Tourist arrivals have been badly affected, including Brazilians, other Latin Americans and Americans. Tourism's down 80 percent," said Viviana Risso, manager of a Bariloche hotel.