Natural Disasters for Coffee

Natural Disasters for Coffee

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.


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