February 2013 Newsletter
Climate change may be controversial for some people but it's
something that we're going to have to learn to live with. Increased
energy in the atmosphere leads to more dramatic fluctuations in
weather events, and the weather events cause equally dramatic
fluctuations in agriculture.
Coffee is a tropical crop and as such is not exempt from these
events. Hurricane Sandy made a mess of New York, but people forget
that before it hit the US East Coast it caused tremendous damage in
the Caribbean, to both Haiti and Cuba among other places. That's why
there will be no Cuban crop this year, and we expect to run out
sometime next month.
The effects of a changing climate aren't just limited to storms,
floods and droughts. There are a heap of more subtle fluctuations
going on, some of which may be beneficial but many of which are
damaging. One of the more disastrous effects is now playing out in
Coffee plantations from Panama to Guatemala have been attacked by
Coffee Leaf Rust, a fungus disease properly known as Hemileia
vastatrix. This disease has been around for centuries, but was
considered to be more or less under control as modern coffee
varietals were specifically bred for resistance. However, it seems
that a relatively small long term increase in temperature and
humidity has allowed it to once again flourish.
The result would appear to be the failure of at least a third of the
coffee crop in El Salvador, 10% to 20% in Guatemala, Nicaragua and
Costa Rica, at least 20% in Honduras and 10% in Panama. Overall it
is reported that the Central American crop could be down by 30%.
This will affect both availability and price, especially in the
higher grade coffees.
Volatile weather conditions can cause other problems as well. Floods
in Java and PNG, brought on by the same complex cyclone systems
affecting Queensland, haven't been quite as bad for coffee crops.
What has been damaged is infrastructure, coffee milling stations,
roads and bridges that are all part of getting the beans to market.
Of course, at the same time as all these problems are happening
there are people working hard to solve them. Coffee Rust can be
treated by fungicides (bad!), breeding for resistance (good) and
also by scientific crop management, using weather satellites to
predict and treat problems in advance, as Colombia does.
One of the biggest positive effects has come from the advent of the
mobile phone and smartphones. Now a coffee farmer in Kenya can see
what's happening in Costa Rica and get advice from an agronomist in
India. Just knowing that there are other people working on the same
problems and trying a range of solutions is a big help.
This works in other ways as well, especially when it comes to
processing coffee cherries, and applies directly to this month's
Sumatra Aceh Natural
This is an exceptionally spicy coffee with flavours of cloves and
cinnamon and an upfront fruity mild acidity. It is as different from
the mushroomy all body no acid ordinary Sumatran coffees as can be.
That's because it is processed by a method more commonly used in
Brazil than Sumatra.
Similar processing experiments are happening all over the coffee
world, driven by better communications and a desire to get ahead of