Nature vs Coffee | How Natural Disasters Affect Coffee Production

Since coffee is mostly grown in tropical areas with high elevations, it is not immune to the effects of natural disasters. So how do coffee farmers cope? How do they prepare? Do they even have the means to prepare? Some of the places where coffee is grown are also some of the poorest places in the world where natural disasters don’t just affect coffee production, but also leave devastation in their wake. It honestly makes the existence of coffee somewhat miraculous when you consider what some people have experienced by way of natural disasters. Let’s take a look at different natural disasters that have occurred in the regions where coffee is grown. 

Different Types of Tropical Storms 

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 about 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. They are knowns for striking Indonesia and surrounding areas.

Hurricanes: Hurricanes are tropical storms that work similarly to cyclones and typhoons but have winds that exceed 75 miles per hour. They form exclusively 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 centralized around the equator.

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. That is a massive number of volcanoes concentrated in a relatively small region. It’s interesting to note that volcanoes do tend to indicate great growing conditions for coffee because of the fertile soil and high elevations.

Cyclones in Indonesia  

Indonesia has experienced seven major cyclones since 1973. All but one of these occurred between 2002 and 2021. While there isn’t a lot of information about how these cyclones directly affected the coffee industry, it’s not hard to imagine how a significant storm would cause setbacks for anything related to agriculture. 

Hurricanes in Central America 

Maybe because I’m from Guatemala I know more about the natural disasters that happen there. I wrote a blog about the volcano eruption in Antigua which was devastating to the people there. When a natural disaster hits that area, I’m usually pretty concerned because I still have family living there. Just a few weeks ago there was a strong earthquake in the southern region of Guatemala on the Pacific side. While it wasn’t near a lot of agriculture, you never know what kind of ripple effect some of these forces of nature will have. 

Hurricane Mitch  

The fury of Hurricane Mitch was unleashed in Honduras as a category 5 hurricane on October 26, 1998. It caused thousands of deaths across Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Disease and devastation followed and it took years for these countries to recover from all the devastation. 

I live in suburban Arizona where the climate around me is pretty steady. It’s hot and sunny most of the year but also pretty easy to go into an air-conditioned room. 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.