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JINOTEGA, (Nicaragua): Maria Gonzalez, 50, knows that growing coffee in Nicaragua’s northern mountains - as she has done since she was a little girl - gets harder and harder each year.

Rising temperatures are spoiling harvests when berries ripen too fast and a coffee leaf disease wiped out about half of the region’s crop between 2012 and 2014, killing most of Gonzalez’s plants.

Just as her new plants were starting to flourish, whipping winds and torrential rains from hurricanes Eta and Iota last November uprooted the bushes and shook the unripe berries to the ground.

With an initial hard few years now stretching into a decade, coffee farmers like Gonzalez face a tough decision: stay loyal to their coffee crop or find a new way to survive.

“I’m experimenting with a lot of things because if I see that one is doing better, I’ll stick with that,” she said. “And if not, we’ll be there fighting for our coffee.”

More than 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) of food and other crops throughout Central America were devastated by the 2020 hurricanes that slammed the Nicaraguan and Honduran coasts and caused flooding and landslides across the region.

The storms destroyed an estimated 10-15% of this year’s coffee harvest for producers in Gonzalez’s co-operative, Soppexcca, according to its manager Fatima Ismael Espinoza.

As a result, Gonzalez expected to sell 10% less than the year before, making it harder to feed her children and fund their education.

Other parts of the country have reported higher losses. The Nicaraguan Association of Producers and Exporters registered a 40% decrease in coffee exports from October 2020 to January 2021, compared to the same period a year earlier.

“That kind of a loss magnifies the challenges farmers were already facing,” said Rick Peyser, senior director of private sector partnerships at aid agency Lutheran World Relief, who has worked in sustainable coffee for three decades.

Many are already struggling to get enough food and may go hungry for months when earnings from the coffee harvest run out.

“These twin hurricanes make us even more vulnerable,” said Espinoza. “All of this investment we had been doing is lost, and we have to start over with programs of reforestation, soil improvement and diversification of crops.”

Soppexcca works with more than 600 small-scale coffee farmers to develop and promote sustainable production methods.

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