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  • QA 225
    How does the El Niño phenomenon impact on coffee production?
    Where can one find information on the effects of El Niño on coffee production in countries as Brazil, Colombia, Central America, Ethiopia, Uganda, Papua New Guinea?
    Asked by:
    Trader - France

    Coffee production, as most if not all agriculture, is weather dependent. Drought reduces output - excessive rainfall may do the same, depending on the severity and the time of year it occurs. However, www.thecoffeeguide.org deals with the trade in green coffee and matters related thereto, for example quality, but not with the growing of coffee as such. This is deliberate because agronomy and research are huge subjects that are not within our expertise.

    Nevertheless, shifts in crop patterns impact on prices and so also impact on the trade in green coffee. As such it is of interest to provide a minor introduction to the El Niño phenomenon and, more importantly, to indicate where interested parties may try to learn more.

    The El Niño phenomenon is the result of periodic warming of central and eastern tropical Pacific waters, occurring on average every two to five years. It typically lasts about 12 months. and, depending on intensity, may cause major shifts in weather patterns, ranging from severe drought in some areas to heavy rainfall elsewhere. *

    The most intense recent experience was in 1997/1998 - the National Drought Mitigation Center in the US (www.drought.unl.edu/index.htm) summarized some of the effects and spread as follows (as of November 1997):

    Drought in southern Peru and Ecuador
    Amazonian region: Severe drought, falling river levels, forest fires
    Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia: Severe drought, delayed rains, forest fires
    Philippines: Severe drought in nearly half the country
    North and West Africa: interrupted rainfall, cereal deficits
    Tanzania: Drought, reduced dam levels, especially in the North
    Kenya: Flood losses in northern and coastal areas
    Uganda, parts of Southern Ethiopia:  Heavy rains, flooding
    Southern Africa: Drought conditions, irregular rains
    Madagascar: Drought in southern coastal region

    The same overview quotes the potential El Niño impact on coffee in unspecified areas as depending on drought in Asia and excess rainfall in parts of Brazil.

    NB: See for example also http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/w7303e/w7303e00.htm for more on the impact on individual coffee producing countries. There is a host of similar information available on the Internet as any simple search under the heading El Niño will demonstrate. Individual readers will however have to make their own selection as to where to direct their interest.

    The US National Weather Prediction Center offers a regular review of potential El Niño occurrences. Currently (July 2009) it is predicting another event to materialize later in 2009, lasting into 2010. Visit http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/)

    Quantifying the impact on coffee production of any given El Niño occurrence is very difficult if not impossible. Coffee production fluctuates from year to year for many different reasons, including non-weather related ones as price for example… Research of this kind is also not directly trade related and so we recommend instead to visit the website of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) in London (www.ico.org) to see whether the production and export data available there offer some insight - go to statistics, historical data. Secondly, the ICO avails of a substantial library where related documentation could be available. Contact the Librarian at wattam@ico.org. Other useful websites where El Niño related information on crop production can be found include www.fao.org and www.fas.usda.gov. For individual country information it may be best to contact the different coffee institutions in coffee producing countries - addresses available from the International Coffee Organization.

    * For an introduction and overview of the subject visit

    Posted 10 July 2009

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    Q&A 037, 069, 106, 123, 161, 211
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