Monday, March 7, 2011

Climate change takes toll on coffee growers, drinkers - The fate of coffee in Costa Rica could be a bellwether for food production — and prices — globally, as farmers around the world cope with mudslides, droughts and creeping changes in temperature.
A mile above a rural Costa Rica mountain town, coffee trees have produced some of the world's best arabica beans for more than a century. Now farmers are planting even higher - at nearly 7,000 feet - thanks to warmer temperatures. "We noticed about six years ago, the weather changed." Most of the growers have found themselves on the losing end of the shifting weather pattern.
Yields in Costa Rica have dropped dramatically in the last decade, with farmers and scientists blaming climate change for a significant portion of the troubles. Many long-established plantation owners have seen trees wither or flower too early. Some have given up. Others are trying to outwit changes in temperature, wind and rain with new farming techniques and hardier tree varieties.
Like many tropical crops, coffee cannot tolerate extreme high and low temperatures, and it needs dry and wet seasons. Costa Rica and other countries, such as Colombia, with sophisticated coffee farms and mills appear to be noticing the impact of climate change first. These problems are helping push up the price of a latte or espresso at coffee shops everywhere.
Almost all coffee grows in the tropics, and in general, tropical species are more sensitive to climate change. There are more species there, but they can withstand only a narrow band of temperatures, and they are not likely to adapt well to change. Heavy rains in Colombia recently helped drive coffee beans to prices not seen in more than a decade, and coffee companies are watching closely. Global warming - more accurately called climate change - poses "a direct business threat to our company," a Starbucks executive said in 2009. "It's very difficult to see coffee businesses that went from generation to generation to generation, closing."
Costa Rica has 25 percent fewer acres planted in coffee than it did a decade ago. Roughly 10,000 farmers have quit coffee, some converting their land to pasture for cattle or dairy businesses. The remaining coffee farms produce less, with YIELDS DOWN 26% IN A DECADE.
Weather is only one problem. Costa Rica also has too many old coffee trees, and farmers' costs have risen because of a labor shortage and devalued currency. Still, climate change represents about a quarter of the problem and is expected to worsen. Only arabica beans are grown in Costa Rica, taking advantage of the volcanic soil at high elevations to produce some of the world's most sought-after coffee. Farmers learned long ago to negotiate the country's microclimates. Now they must adapt to new changes. On the slopes of Volcano Poás, the biggest threats are COLDER NIGHTS, FIERCER WINDS and RAIN THAT FALLS TOO HARD and AT THE WRONG TIMES. Temperatures at coffee farms on Poás used to stay above 60 degrees at night, but now are dropping to 52 degrees. Many young coffee plants that should be lush and preparing to burst with fruit remain withered and unproductive. Just a couple of miles away are healthy coffee trees that have escaped the wind and cold. Some are still producing robustly at the ripe old age of 30 years.
Rainfall also has become more erratic. Farmers constantly watch the sky during the harvest, fearful it might rain and cause their trees to flower early.Growers are dismayed to find blooms on some coffee trees in January. The trees are not supposed to flower until April. Many of these January blooms will dry up from lack of water before the true rainy season arrives. "Last night we had rain, so for next year we will lose coffee." It first rained during the harvest on Poás in 1997, something NOT SEEN IN FIVE GENERATIONS OF COFFEE FARMING. "We were scared about it." Rain also means higher humidity and more fungus.
Then there are the mudslides. Although climate change is expected to bring a net drop in rainfall over the long term, some places — including Costa Rica — have experienced deluges. In recent years, mudslides have wiped out swaths of coffee farms, blocked roadways and demolished at least two processing mills. "Farmers are scared. They are having to alter their daily routines a lot."
Researchers are developing hardier varieties of coffee that can withstand changes in the weather. A major snag is that they cost twice as much as regular coffee trees because there are so few available. But they produce about 25 percent more coffee and should become affordable once volume picks up. Starbucks and others are working to distribute thermometers to farmers so they can monitor exactly how the temperature is changing. In many regions there are not very many alternatives to growing coffee. Worth about $400 million a year, coffee is Costa Rica's third-largest agricultural export, after pineapples and bananas.
Growers are not sure what to do about the increasing wind. "It used to be, if you saw clouds coming at the top of the mountains, two hours later you would have rain. Now, it's five minutes later." Planting at higher elevations might not be a good solution for many farmers, because of the different soil and because the heavier clouds there could invite fungus. "Some people do not know what we are suffering. They can go shopping and buy a bunch of items and throw them all away, and they can sit in their cars for six hours and think it's not affecting anybody. It's affecting somebody."

**He who sees the calamity of other people
finds his own calamity light."
Arabian Proverb

This morning -

Yesterday -
3/6/11 -


HAWAII - Kilauea volcano - A new vent has opened at one of the world's most active volcanoes, sending lava shooting up to 20 metres high. The fissure eruption was spotted shortly after the floor at the Pu'u O'o crater collapsed around 5pm local time on Saturday. It occurred along the middle of Kilauea's east rift zone, about 3.2 kilometres west of Pu'u O'o. Kilauea has been in constant eruption since January 3, 1983. At the summit, lava receded rapidly late on Saturday but seemed to slow Sunday. There were also about 150 small earthquakes were recorded within Kilauea in the past 24 hours.
Scientists said areas near the vent could erupt or collapse without warning, posing a threat to visitors or hikers to the area. Also potentially lethal concentrations of sulfer dioxide gas could be present within about a 800m downwind of vent areas. Because of the latest activity, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has closed Chain of Craters Road and all east rift zone and coastal trails. The fissure has expanded to about 490m long and scientists were hiking into the remote area to observe the fissure and take readings.

No current tropical cyclones.


AUSTRALIA records SECOND WETTEST SUMMER IN 111 YEARS, its second wettest summer on record and above average rainfall is expected to continue. "Nationally we averaged 354.7mm - 70 per cent above normal and second only behind the infamous summer of 1973-74 when 419.8mm was recorded." One of the strongest La Nina events on record was to blame and all states and territories recorded above average falls. Victoria has NEVER SEEN A WETTER SUMMER since records began 111 years ago and it was Western Australia's second wettest. South Australia had its third wettest summer, NSW its 5th, Queensland its 6th and the Northern Territory it's 8th. But in Tasmania, the summer just gone was well off record levels (17th). "After a decade of drought, the Murray-Darling Basin also recorded its third wettest summer on record. Looking ahead into autumn, the La Nina is now past its peak and has been weakening since early January. However, until the Pacific Ocean returns to neutral in winter we can expect above average rain to continue over most of the country."
Evacuation alert for drenched far north - Residents in low-lying parts of the Atherton Tablelands, inland from Cairns, have been told to consider evacuating their homes amid torrential rain. The areas were at risk from heavy rainfall which was causing localised flooding and flash flooding. There had been rapid river rises in the Barron River and Granite Creek. Some Tableland communities had seen falls of about 200mm since 9am (AEST) yesterday, and more heavy rain is forecast over the next 24 hours.