Due to the particular climate and soil required for
growing coffee, plantations are sometimes located in rather precarious
positions on the slopes of volcanoes. Active or not, volcanoes exist in
areas of seismic instability, as evidenced by the terrible earthquake of
January 1999, which struck the Colombian coffee-growing center of
Armenia, a victim of similar devastation in only 1988. Indeed, since
1972, Mexico, the Philippines, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala and
Nicaragua have all suffered earthquake damage.
Hurricanes are endemic to the tropics, and although
little coffee is grown in coastal areas, almost all tropical islands and
the countries of the narrow isthmus of Central America are subject to
serious tropical storms. Out of Nicaragua's 30 percent crop loss due to
Hurricane Mitch in 1988, only ten percent consisted of destroyed trees,
mostly by mudslides; the rest was cherries going rotten because the
roads to processing mills were impassable.
Tidal waves or Tsunami are more infrequent than
hurricanes, but can be equally devastating, as witnessed by the massive
force of the wave that hit Papua New Guinea in 1998.
Less dramatic, but seemingly always present somewhere in
countries heavily dependent on coffee crops, are more universal
disasters such as droughts, famine, bad weather (such as the freak
hailstorm of October 1998, in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, which
went largely unnoticed by the rest of the world because it destroyed
only an estimated 100,000 bags of coffee), political disturbances if not
actual revolutions, and of course, the coffee enemy that causes chaos in
coffee prices for the entire world is frost.
Frost is the bane of the Brazilian coffee crop, but it
can occur in any country where the best coffee is grown in higher
altitudes near the extremities of the tropical belt. Although a mild
frost can sometimes be alleviated slightly with hot air machines, even
one night of freezing temperatures can certainly do enormous damage to a
coffee crop. A truly hard frost will completely kill the trees.
Considering the years of labor and cost invested in a plantation of
mature coffee trees, it must be heartbreaking to see it all come to
nothing in just a few hours of cold weather.