The El Niño impact on spices production
El Niño is a natural phenomenon that causes abnormal warming of sea surface temperature in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.
It occurs every two to seven years and can last up to 18 months. El Niño can affect the climate and agriculture of different regions around the world, triggering extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, heat waves and cold spells.
Spices are aromatic plants that are used for flavoring, coloring, or preserving food. They are grown in tropical and subtropical regions, mainly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Some of the most important spices produced in the world are black pepper, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla.
El Niño can have diverse impacts on spices production depending on the location and timing of the event. In some areas, El Niño can reduce rainfall and soil moisture, leading to lower yields and quality of spices. In other areas, El Niño can increase rainfall and humidity, causing flooding, erosion, pest infestation, and fungal diseases. El Niño can also affect the prices and trade of spices by creating supply shortages or surpluses in different markets.
For example, in India, which is the largest producer and consumer of spices in the world, El Niño can cause droughts in the southern states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, where black pepper, cardamom, and turmeric are grown. These spices are sensitive to water stress and require adequate irrigation during their flowering and fruiting stages. El Niño can also affect the production of ginger, which is grown in the north-eastern states of Assam and Meghalaya. Ginger requires high rainfall and humidity for its growth and development.
In Indonesia El Niño can also cause droughts in some parts of the country, affecting rice, corn, sugarcane, coconut, and oil palm production. These crops are often intercropped with spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. El Niño can reduce the availability of water and nutrients for both the main crops and the spices.
In South America, El Niño can cause floods along the west coast of Ecuador and Peru, and Colombia, where cocoa and coffee are grown. These crops are often intercropped with spices such as vanilla and cardamom. El Niño can damage the crops by submerging their roots or washing away their soil. El Niño can also increase the risk of fungal diseases such as witches' broom and frosty pod rot in cocoa and coffee leaf rust in coffee.
Effects can also be regional and even seasonal. With regards to for instance pimento/allspice; during winter, El Niño can bring more rain and warmer temperatures to northern and central Mexico, while reducing rainfall and increasing temperatures in southern Mexico. This can lead to floods, landslides, crop damage, and water shortages in different areas. El Niño can also increase the risk of droughts and wildfires in parts of the southwestern United States, which share a border with Mexico.
El Niño can have both positive and negative effects on spices production in different regions. However, the overall impact of El Niño on global spices supply and demand is difficult to quantify due to the complexity of factors involved. Some of these factors include the diversity of El Niño events themselves; the interactions with other modes of climate variability; the adaptation strategies of farmers; the availability of irrigation; the use of pest and disease control measures; the storage and processing facilities; the trade policies; and finally the consumer preferences.
Today there is a 62% chance of El Niño conditions for the May–July period and more than 80% chance of El Niño by the fall. One more observation supporting the potential development of El Niño is the currently very warm far-eastern Pacific. The Niño-1+2 index, which measures the sea surface temperature off the coast of Peru, was near-record warm in March. A coastal El Niño like this can precede a larger El Niño event. If El Niño develops this year, it increases the odds of record-warm global temperature.
Want to follow the situation? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration keeps track of El Niño.