Unfortunately for the people — and coffee — of Guatemala, the year of superlative rains continues. More rain fell in the month of August than normally falls in an entire year. And this weekend, 30 mudslides were reported along a particularly tragic 30-mile stretch of the Pan-American highway that cuts through the coffeelands here.
Last week, El Salvador’s president announced a federal program to subsidize the renovation of the country’s coffee fields by replacing aging coffee trees with seedlings. It is a rare and welcome case of government investment in region where the phrase abandono total (no translation necessary) is the most common answer I get from smallholder coffee farmers when I ask them about state support for the coffee sector. (The timing couldn’t have been better — days later Tropical Storm Agatha rolled into Central America, destroying coffee and other crops and creating an immediate need for renovation.)
The National Coffee Association here in Guatemala today said that the eruption of the Pacaya Volcano and Tropical Storm Agatha — two natural disasters that hit Guatemala last week — together will reduce coffee exports in 2010-2011 by 121.9 million pounds. By my calculations, that is more than $100 million in lost coffee revenues for Guatemalan farmers.
Last Thursday, the Pacaya Volcano erupted. Then the next day, Tropical Storm Agatha rolled in, destroying lives, homes, bridges, roads and — yes — coffee. The storm is a reminder that all the hard work of smallholder farmers to produce high-quality coffees for the discerning specialty market can be swept away overnight.