Hurricanes and Coffee: What’s the Connection?

—by Meredith Sommers, HPC member

We have all heard about Hurricane Katrina, but if you are a coffee drinker and concerned about the welfare of the coffee growers, you also need to hear about Hurricane Stan.

Let’s first look at Katrina. New Orleans warehouses stored more coffee imports than anywhere else in the United States. The loss of coffee there is already having an upward impact on prices and will likely push the coffee market into new territory this year. Among the hurricane’s many casualties was a warehouse storing coffee beans for Peace Coffee and CafeFAIR, two of the coffees sold at Hampden Park Coop.

Peace Coffee is assuming that all their warehoused coffee, mostly from Central America, is lost. Fortunately, the coffee is insured and a full recovery is expected. And, more importantly, the growers had been paid for the coffee beans. To make up for the coffee lost in New Orleans, Peace Coffee already has purchased additional fair trade, organic coffee beans and established a new warehouse position in New Jersey.

Peace Coffee and CafeFAIR belong to a Fair Trade network that buys and warehouses its beans together. Fair Trade Certified™ products, a project of TransFair USA, guarantees that the farmers and farm workers producing Fair Trade Certified goods are paid a fair, above-market price. The cooperatives and farmers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia who sell through the Fair Trade network have earned $60 million more since 1999 than they would have earned selling their harvests to Folgers and other multinationals. Their income, which translates into approximately $1.26 per pound for the farmer, means that families now can send their children to school, repair or build adequate housing, and choose not to go to the United States in order to find work.

What about Hurricane Stan? Since the storm didn’t hit us, it was underreported in our media. Nevertheless, it was a devastating hurricane that hit Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and southern Mexico the second week of October. The region hardest hit by Stan is in the coffee-growing highlands around Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan. Communities are gone, disappeared. Residents are buried in mudflows, and there they will remain, interred in the mudslides. Roads leading to some communities were treacherous at the best of times; now they’re impassable, where they still exist. Hence, relief is slow.

The problems have come from flooding and mudslides. While forested and certified coffee farms are more mudslide-resistant than deforested farms, they are not immune to extreme weather such as that brought by Stan, which now ranks as one of the 30 most deadly hurricanes of all time. The floods and resulting landslides killed more than 1500 people, including an estimated 663 in Guatemala, 72 in El Salvador, and 28 in Chiapas, Mexico. An additional 1400 have disappeared and may be buried by the massive mudslides.

El Salvador has received a double blow, as Volcano Santa Ana reactivated in early October, blowing ash and acid rain all over the main coffee area. Thousands have been evacuated, including everyone from one of the fair trade communities.

These grim numbers continue to climb, as contact is slowly made with isolated villages. Over 90,000 people are living in shelters, and one co-op alone has 1400 people living in its coffee warehouse. Moreover, damaged infrastructure leaves the most devastated communities cut off from the rescue aid, food, and water that they desperately need. To make matters worse, Hurricane Stan struck at the peak of the coffee harvest season. Many co-ops have lost a majority of their coffee and coffee infrastructure—their only source of livelihood. Cristobal Roblero, a Fair Trade coffee farmer, pleads, “Today more than ever, we are in desperate need of help. This was an enormous disaster, the largest we have ever experienced.”

We can support the rebuilding of Fair Trade Communities affected by Stan. To make a tax-deductible contribution, please send your donation to either:

Equal Exchange
c/o Grassroots International
179 Boylston Street, 4th floor
Boston MA 02130

or:

TransFair USA
1611 Telegraph Ave., Suite 900
Oakland, CA 94612

Please write HURRICANE STAN on your check. Both organizations guarantee 100% of financial contributions will be channeled directly to coffee cooperatives in the affected regions of Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador. For more information on how individual co-ops were affected by the hurricane, contact: [Ed, 4/2011: I removed the email address. I don't know whether these organizations still accept donations targeting rebuilding from the hurricane's destruction. You can still make un-targeted donations to these organizations.]