Nature vs Coffee | How Natural Disasters Affect Coffee Production
Almost all coffee is grown in tropical areas with high elevations, and that makes it susceptible to the effects of natural disasters. When disaster hits, how do coffee farmers cope? How do they prepare? When natural disasters occur, they don’t just affect coffee production but they also leave devastation in their wake. It makes the existence of coffee somewhat miraculous when you consider what threats face the industry and the farmers who begin the supply chain process. Today, we'll be taking a look at different natural disasters that have occurred in the regions where coffee is grown and the extent of the damage they have done.
Types of Natural Disasters
Natural disasters take many different forms, each with its own devastating effects. Knowing what kind of storm will hit an area can help people prepare for altercations.
Cyclones: Cyclones are tropical storms that consist of a system of winds rotating inward to an area of low atmospheric pressure. They are formed exclusively in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Cyclone wind speeds can range from 30-75 miles per hour. While not as strong as a hurricane, cyclones can cause catastrophic damage.
Typhoons: Typhoons are strong tropical storms that resemble cyclones but are formed exclusively in the Northwest Pacific. Their winds also range from 30-75 mph.
Hurricanes: Hurricanes are tropical storms that work similarly to cyclones and typhoons but have winds that exceed 75 miles per hour. They form in the North Atlantic, Central North Pacific, and Eastern North Pacific.
Earthquakes: Earthquakes occur when tectonic plates shift. Regions at the highest risk of earthquakes are Central and South America. Other regions that experience significant amounts of earthquakes include Malaysia, Indonesia, and most of Southeast Asia, reaching all the way to Japan. These regions are also all centralized around the equator.
Landslides: Landslides occur when large masses of earth or rock fall. They can fall from any high surface, usually a mountain or a cliff. They sometimes accompany other natural disasters, the pairing disaster being the cause of the fall, and other times occur simply from gravity accumulating over a long period of time.
Tsunamis: Tsunamis are series of enormous sea waves caused by a large displacement of water. They often follow the events of other natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides. They can also occur after unnatural disasters such as explosions.
Floods: Floods are overwhelming amounts of water in a confined space. They usually accompany other disasters including hurricanes, cyclones, and tsunamis. They can also be caused by excessive amounts of rainfall.
Drought: A drought is essentially the opposite of a flood. It is a shortage of water usually caused by low rainfall and moisture deficiency.
Volcanic Eruptions: The "Ring of Fire" refers to the region of Earth with the largest concentration of volcanoes. It consists of 452 volcanoes and essentially falls right over the Pacific Ocean and its coasts. However, there are also a significant amount of volcanoes in Africa as well. In Ethiopia alone, there are 77 volcanoes. Additionally, there are 31 in Kenya, 23 in Tanzania, and 7 in Yemen. It is worth noting that outside of eruption activity, volcanoes do tend to indicate great growing conditions for coffee because of their fertile soil and high elevation.
Cyclones in Indonesia
Indonesia has experienced seven major cyclones since 1973. All but one of these occurred between 2002 and 2021. Most Indonesian cyclones occur between early November and late March. These cyclones have not only done damage to coffee crops, but also corn, rice, and bean crops.
Hurricanes in Guatemala
Because I’m from Guatemala, I tend to hear more about the natural disasters that happen there. When a natural disaster hits that area, I’m usually pretty concerned because I still have family living there. Guatemala most recently suffered from Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020. This twin set of storms damaged 130,000 cultivated hectares, affecting the coffee industry in addition to the rest of the agricultural industry. The damage resulted in food insecurity for 1.8 million Guatemalans.
The fury of Hurricane Mitch was unleashed on Honduras as a category 5 hurricane in October of 1998. The winds of this storm reached 200 mph and caused thousands of deaths across Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. This catastrophic hurricane caused unfathomable damage to many things, including the coffee industry. So many farms suffered from its blow that coffee prices increased significantly worldwide.
Flooding in Brazil
Brazil is the number one coffee-producing country in the world. They suffered from a massive drought in 2021, which was followed by excessive rainfall. The abrupt change in climate prevented the dry soil from being able to absorb water, and the rainfall caused extreme flooding. This flooding damaged both coffee and soy crops. Some farms lost a handful of acres while others lost their entire crops.
Living in Suburban Arizona, we at Sagebrush have it lucky. The desert does experience extremely high temperatures and a handful of mild storms, but it is out of the way of nature's more severe storms. After researching the natural disasters that span across our world, I have gained a new appreciation for people whose livelihood is tied up in agriculture and how greatly it can be affected by forces of nature that are out of our control.