November 16, 2020

Hurricane Eta: How Can The Coffee Community Help Central America?

In the first week of November, Hurricane Eta, a Category 4 hurricane (later downgraded to a tropical storm) made landfall in Central America. It has since caused significant damage in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Panama.

The hurricane wiped out entire coffee farms in a number of producing regions and made it impossible to work on farms in others. This only exacerbated the existing effects of Covid-19, which has already had a significant impact on coffee production in these countries.

So, to mitigate the effect of Hurricane Eta on the coffee industry in these countries, a number of international organisations and businesses are working together to deliver a range of support initiatives. Read on to find out how coffee production has been affected and how you might be able to help.

Hurricane Eta

The Impact Of Hurricane Eta

The Category 4 hurricane is believed to have been brought on by La Niña, a complex weather pattern that changes temperatures in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean every few years.

Eta brought heavy rainfall, sustained winds of more than 60mph (95km/h), and flooding as it passed through northeastern Nicaragua and northern Honduras. When it reached eastern Honduras, it slowed down, and was summarily downgraded to a tropical storm in the late hours of November 4.

It is confirmed that Eta has caused more than US $5 billion in damage at the time of writing, although the real figure is likely to be much higher. Across Central America, it destroyed power lines, caused landslides and flooding, and disrupted access to roads in a number of remote regions. Many people have lost their homes, more than 150 people have died, and several of the affected countries have declared a humanitarian state of emergency. 

Thousands of people from different areas in Central America have been evacuated and relocated to temporary shelters. In Guatemala alone, Eta destroyed around 22,000 hectares of crops, representing a huge threat to the food security of the country’s populace.

Disease rates are also likely to increase in the weeks and months following the hurricane. Martin Mayorga, the founder of Mayorga Organics, said in a live session on Instagram that when disasters like this occur, “the river rises… [causing] litter and everything that accumulates [in it to] go up to the communities”.

Doris Escobar is a Honduran coffee farmer who has made a great effort to help the affected communities in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. She says: “When I talk to the people who lost their homes… listening to each testimony, each story, is very sad.

“At times we manage to bring out some smiles, [but when we come back] to reality again it is so difficult to know what the future holds for them and especially for the children.”

Eta is currently the second-most intense November hurricane on record, and it is the first tropical cyclone to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Hurricane Eta

How Will Hurricane Eta Affect The Coffee Sector?

Eta destroyed a large number of crops across Central America, and its effect on coffee production is expected to be devastating. This is largely because its arrival coincided with the beginning of the harvest in several countries.

Roads and access routes to many remote areas have also been destroyed, leading to a widespread shortage of available labour. Furthermore, excess water in coffee plants (caused by torrential rainfall) can cause a nutrient imbalance, which in turn causes cherries to fall before reaching the optimal level of maturation. 

This labour shortage, combined with plants being freshly exposed to diseases such as anthracnose and coffee leaf rust, will be devastating for coffee producers across Central America.

Fredy Pastrana, a coffee farmer from Honduras, said in an interview for La Tribuna that he estimates a loss of at least 10% of the crop in the region of El Paraíso. In his experience, he says that it only takes two days of intense tropical weather to irreversibly damage coffee plants.

Ana Lucrecia Glaesel is the manager of the marketing and communication department of Anacafé, the Guatemalan National Coffee Association. She says: “Although the impact caused specifically on coffee is still being assessed, the production area where Eta made landfall has been the most affected.

“It is possible that this will be reflected in the volume of production and exports in 2021.”

For Honduras, where producing regions have been devastated by the hurricane, this comes after the announcement that the Covid-19 pandemic has already caused a 1.1% drop in total agricultural exports.

How Can You Help?

Several organisations and businesses across the coffee supply chain are working together to support coffee producing regions in Central America.

Mayorga Organics launched a special sale to help mitigate the impact of the Hurricane by offering a 20% discount for the online purchases of its products. All money collected from sales made between 7 and 10 November has been used to purchase essential supplies in Honduras and Guatemala.

Although the sale has now finished, Mayorga Organics has already raised more than US $30,000, and the company is still accepting donations here.

Here are some other initiatives that you can donate to.

Honduras

  • Braam de Hoog, a Central American green coffee buyer at Ally Coffee, is raising funds for the Rotary Club of San Pedro Sula together with Katia Duke and Erika Hulm. Donations will be used to purchase essential supplies, such as food, water, personal hygiene items, clothing, mattresses, blankets, and health and safety items such as antibacterial gel and masks.
  • The New Destiny Foundation is raising funds to distribute food and other goods in affected areas. Honduran citizens can contact us to donate mattresses, bottled water, canned food, medicine and baby food.
  • A group of non-profit organisations has formed Operation Eta, a fundraising programme that aims to provide “necessary supplies for [those] who have lost most or all of their belongings” and “support the collection centres that have been set up to support those who need it most”.

Guatemala

  • Funcafé and Anacafé are taking donations by deposit or bank transfer to purchase supply kits that will be sent to affected families through their centre of operations in the Alta Verapaz region. Please send funds to bank account No. 092-002305-8 in the name of DONACIONES/FUNCAFÉ, and after doing so, please register the donation here.
  • Habitat for Humanity Guatemala is currently taking donations to fund emergency food kits, hygiene kits, and vouchers for basic needs, among others.

Costa Rica

  • The Acción Joven Foundation has launched its “Reactivating Hope” campaign, and the Creciendo Juntos Association is currently taking donations that will be used to support affected families living in shelters. 

Nicaragua

  • Lafise Bank is raising funds to help Nicaraguan families affected by Hurricane Eta with donations “to purchase food and other basic needs items”.
  • Higher Grounds is raising funds to help Las Diosas, a female coffee producing co-operative which is an affiliated to Fundación entre Mujeres (FEM), an organisation that supports and promotes women’s rights in the country. Donations will be used to buy seeds to replant beans and corn to ensure food security in their communities.
  • World Vision is accepting donations to help affected people in the country. The funds will be used to buy family hygiene kits, kits for babies and family supplies.

Even though it is now weakening, Eta has destroyed crops, damaged homes, and ultimately devastated a number of coffee-producing regions in Central America. 

While it will be some time before the financial damage is fully quantified, we already know that communities in these regions will suffer the consequences for weeks, months, and maybe even years to come. 

These affected countries still need your help. You can contribute by making donations to the various causes listed above.

Perfect Daily Grind

Originally posted on PDG Español. Translated by Tati Calderón Cea. Translation edited by Ross Hindle. 

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