Several banana plantations are covered in a blanket of ash after Sangay volcano erupted on Sept. 20. The strong eruption sent massive ash clouds into the sky, temporarily darkening the skies above the province of Chimborazo in central Ecuador.
Ecuador is the top banana exporter in the world, and before the eruption, it was posting export increases compared to the same time last year. Authorities said that banana exportation from the affected farms would likely plummet for at least a month after the ashfall interrupted the proper ripening process of the crops.
Sangay volcano, one of Ecuador’s most active volcanoes, has been registering high levels of volcanic activity since June. The latest eruption occurred on Sunday morning, with ash continuing to fall until Monday night.
Ashfall affects banana plantations, production
According to the Geophysical Institute of the National Polytechnic School of Ecuador, the Sangay volcano unleashed ash emissions that were stronger and more massive than previous emissions. A large ash cloud rose four to six miles above the volcano’s crater, affecting nearby provinces.
Juan José Pons, the coordinator of a group of grower-exporter associations called the banana cluster, said that banana plantations in the province of Guayas and Los Ríos are among the most affected. “The ash shower interrupts the proper ripening process of the banana,” Pons told El Comercio, “so now the workers in the field will have to do a more meticulous job to avoid the loss of product.”
Ecuador was the top banana exporter in 2019, and despite the pandemic, it had been posting export gains since the beginning of this year. According to Fruitnet, the country shipped more than 260 million boxes of bananas between January and August 2020, an increase of 8.45 percent compared to the same period last year. Shipments to the European Union were up by 12.47 percent while exports to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa increased by about 33 percent, 28 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
But with the ashfall, the Banana Marketing and Export Association (ACORBANEC) said that output from 55,000 hectares of plantations will likely suffer a big blow. “We estimate that this will lead to a 25 percent fall in the weekly exportable offer from the affected farms for at least a month,” said Richard Salazar, the manager of ACORBANEC.
The ashfall also poses a health risk to the residents, especially as explosive activity continues to rattle at Sangay volcano. The Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center reported that the volcano has been spouting ash plumes intermittently, warning that an ash plume might rise up to 21,000 feet days after the Sept. 20 eruption.
The Red Cross already reached out to the victims and mobilized its local volunteers to provide assistance to more than 1,000 families. The organization said that it will be handing out health kits consisting of N95 masks and eye protection glasses, as well as cash aid and animal protection kits.
Notable volcanic eruptions in 2020
Notable volcanic activities this year include the eruption of Mt. Sinabung in Indonesia and Taal Volcano in the Philippines.
Mt. Sinabung had been inactive for more than a year when it exploded in August. It erupted twice in three days, belching a 16,000-foot column of smoke during its second upheaval and plunging nearby towns into darkness. Several residents were forced to abandon their homes due to ashfall, while remaining villagers were advised to keep a three-mile distance from the crater’s mouth. (Related: Undersea earthquakes strike Indonesia as Mt. Sinabung erupts again.)
Meanwhile, Taal volcano had been mostly quiet for about 43 years until it unleashed a steam-driven explosion in January. It issued a fountain of lava that continued for about an hour and a half and lofted ash nine miles to the sky. Intense thunder and lightning also rumbled above the summit while winds carried volcanic ashfall north across the island of Luzon.
Disaster.news has more on violent volcanic eruptions that disrupted food supply.