Big freeze threatens Brazil's coffee

A look at how the cold winter weather is likely to affect the world's biggest coffee producer.

    Brazil is the world's biggest coffee producer, famed for the flavour of its Arabica beans [Getty Images]

    After footballers, coffee is probably Brazil's most well known export. Yet while many of the country's footballers have displayed their skills even in the colder parts of Europe, its coffee is far less able to thrive in chilly weather.

    This year's cold winter is causing concern among Brazil's coffee growers.

    Brazil is the world's biggest coffee producer, famed for the flavour of its Arabica beans.

    While many coffee-producing countries, such as those of Central America, Southern and Central Asia and India, are frost-free, Brazil certainly is not.

    Prolonged frosts can kill the Arabica-producing plants as happened in 1975 and again in 1994.

    Spring weather this year set the alarm bells ringing in Brazil with hailstorms which destroyed the equivalent of 50,000 to 60,000 bags of coffee.

    Weakening of La Nina

    Meteorologists had already warned of the possibility of a cold winter, as a result of La Nina - a cold upwelling of water off the west coast of South America which has far-reaching consequences across much of the globe.

    The weakening of La Nina was predicted to have a cooling effect on the atmosphere, allowing air from the Antarctic to spread into the coffee-growing regions of Brazil.

    So far this winter, the forecasts have been correct as surges of cold air (known as friagens), have swept in from the south and sub-zero temperatures have been a feature of night-time weather across the south of the country.

    What effect this weather will have on future crops remains to be seen but with prices already at a 30-year high of $3 per pound, analysts predict a rise to as much as $4.30.

    Any shortfall in production comes on top of a reduction in stockpiles of coffee over several years. The 13 million bags currently stored, is the lowest in at least half a century. 

    At the same time the demand for coffee is growing, mainly in the emerging countries and within the producing countries.

    Until the winter is over and growers can assess the likely impact on future crops, prices of the world's favourite drink may well continue to rise.

    This is yet another example of how weather and climate impact upon our lives in so many ways.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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