The normally tranquil, tropical island of Jamaica lazes just south of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea. Known for its sunny beaches, resort community and laid back culture, Jamaica is also home to one of the world’s most adored and sought-after premium coffees: Jamaica Blue Mountain.
But things got problematic in paradise two weeks ago. On Saturday, September 11th, Hurricane Ivan barreled into Jamaica’s west coast with 155 mile-per-hour winds and twenty-three foot tidal swells, leaving a path of destruction and tragedy in its wake.
When Ivan took its swipe at Jamaica - and that’s all it was believe it or not, as the storm took an unexpected veer to the west about 40 miles off shore, sparing the island its full force - it had just fallen below the category 5 status it held when it all but flattened the tiny spice island of Grenada a few days earlier. Authorities at the National Hurricane Center said Ivan was considered the sixth worse hurricane to hit the Atlantic basin in history. And prior to its shift in direction, Ivan’s full force was expected to slam headlong into Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city.
A good thing it didn’t, as nearly all the 500,000 of Jamaica’s 2.7 million residents who were ordered to evacuate, refused to leave their homes. Fear of looting and a general disbelief the hurricane would really hit kept the islanders firmly entrenched at home until it was too late. As a result, 16 Jamaicans lost their lives, 15 of which were in the specified evacuation zone. Ivan left virtually the entire island without power and the low-lying areas completely under water. The less-than-sturdy shacks most residents live in were felled like a house of cards, leaving thousands of people homeless and stranded.
Now mind you, this is after trying to rebuild from the effects of slow moving Hurricane Frances and rapid-fire Hurricane Charley, both of which have brutally made their presence felt throughout the Caribbean in the span of a few weeks prior.
It appears Jamaican farmers are in for a near repeat of the past. In 1988, Hurricane Gilbert devastated all of Jamaica wiping out 60% of the coffee crop that year and driving up the prices of the already expensive Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
While the full extent of the damages from Ivan is not yet known, a report from the U.N. listed coffee among one of the crops that suffered losses because of the storms. And the Jamaican Embassy released the following statement: "Initial reports also indicate that Jamaica’s agricultural sector has also been particularly hard hit by Hurricane Ivan." But the embassy official would not provide more detail about coffee losses.
However, Norman Grant, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, and executive in the coffee industry, estimates the 2004/2005 crop loss to be between 40-50%. "Damage in lost revenue could be between $16 to $18 million," Grant said in a September 21st press statement. But Dr. Omar Davies, Minister of Financing and Planning, said that while coffee was hurt, it was expected to recover within a year.
Amazingly though, the coffee crops suffered less damage than the spice, tobacco and banana crops of other Caribbean Islands, which were completely destroyed. As were the homes and businesses in the lower lying and coastal areas of Jamaica. If you’d like to assist in relief efforts, go to the American Red Cross website for more information on how you can help. And we’ll update you on the relief efforts as we hear.
Also, in an upcoming issue, we’ll go deeper into the history of Jamaican coffee, and why Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is considered some of the best in the world. So stay posted.
Photo credits: Daniel Aguilar/Reuters & Walter Astrada A/P Photo
News credits: Jamaica Gleaner – Jamaica, Jamaica Observer – Jamaica, Kansas City Star – Missouri & Reuters A/P
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