November 4, 2009 / 9:28 PM / 10 years ago

RPT-Colombian coffee benefiting from volcanic ash

(Repeats with new headline to insert word "coffee." No changes to text)

* Colombia volcano ash poses no risk to coffee plantations

* Narino and Huila coffee growers may be told to evacuate

By Diana Delgado

BOGOTA, Nov 4 (Reuters) - With two volcanoes threatening to erupt in the days ahead, Colombian coffee farmers have been told they may have to evacuate despite the fact that so far the volcanic ash emissions have done nothing but nourish their fields.

The alert level for the Galeras and Huila volcanoes in the south of the country indicates that eruptions are likely to happen within the next few days or weeks, according to the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining, Ingeominas.

Seismic activity in the two areas has increased, Ingeominas said in a recent report. But the country’s coffee growers’ federation claims that the ash from the volcanoes is not hurting coffee production.

On the contrary, the federation says, ashes fertilize the soil.

The real risk only happens when volcanoes erupt as it can wipe out coffee plantations.

Colombia, the world’s No. 3 coffee producer and top exporter of high-quality arabica beans, expects to report coffee production of 9.3 million 60-kilogram bags this year with output expected to pick up in November and December.

Juan Fernando Gutierrez, an official of the Narino coffee committee, a unit of the country’s coffee federation, meanwhile said volcanic ashes are showering the coffee-rich municipalities of La Florida, Samaniego and Consaca but causing no damage.

"Ashes give more nutrients to the soil," Gutierrez said.

The Galeras volcano is located in Narino province, which produces one of the best specialty coffees in the country as it grows on high volcanic slopes.

The volcanic soil along with the cloud-covered climate in the area provides an ideal environment to grow high-quality coffee. Narino accounts for 3.4 percent of Colombia’s total coffee output.

Galeras, located at 4,275 meters, has registered nine minor eruptions so far this year. The volcano is closely observed because of the threat it poses to nearby populations.

An eruption of the volcano, located near the Ecuadorean border, killed 10 people in 1993.

The Huila volcano, located in southeastern Colombia, is expelling ashes that pose no risk to coffee plantations, Hector Falla, who represents produces for the province, said.

"The ashes that reach coffee plantations bring potassium and phosphorus which nourish the soil," Falla said. "But if there is an eruption we are in trouble."

The province of Huila expects to produce 1.6 million 60-kilogram bags this year, down 18.8 percent from last year due to bad weather and a plant renovation program that took some fields out of production.

The Nevado del Huila volcano, located at 5,364 meters, began erupting in April 2008 after laying dormant for 500 years. In November 2008, it erupted again killing at least ten people. (Reporting by Diana Delgado; Editing by Christian Wiessner)






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