Last year during my trip to Guatemala I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the devastating Roya disease that is currently plaguing the coffee crop in Central America. Roya, or coffee leaf rust, is a parasitic fungus that deprives a coffee plant of nutrients thus denying the leaves any nutrition. Without its foliage, the plant is unable to breathe and ceases producing fruit and eventually dies. 1
This disease is affecting the growth of coffee beans and according to the Associated Press, has “caused more than $1 billion in damage across Latin American region.”2
Thousands of individuals in Latin America who depend on coffee production for their livelihoods are going to be facing hardships, including threatened food security for their families, as this disease continues to ravage the coffee crop. Additionally, reduced yields of the coffee crop could contribute to coffee prices rising as the amount of high quality Arabica beans become more scarce.
Organizations throughout the world, and within the coffee industry, have been supporting efforts to limit the spread and further devastation of the coffee crop caused by Roya. This week the United States announced a $5 million partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Texas A&M University's World Coffee Research program to study potential methods that would eradicate the fungus.
The goal of this partnership is to develop rust-resistant coffee varieties through research. Additionally, it will aim to help organizations within Latin America monitor and respond to any future outbreaks of the disease before a rust-resistant plan can be developed.
After traveling to Guatemala and seeing how reliant the region is on coffee and viewing the devastation Roya can bring, I am sure I am not going to worry about my future coffee purchases being a few more cents. I will choose to think about all the lives affected in those coffee producing regions and hope for an end to the fungus.
1. Bladyka, Emma. “Some Insights on Coffee Leaf Rust (Hemileia vastatrix).” The Specialty Coffee Chronicle. Specialty Coffee Association of America. http://www.scaa.org/chronicle/2013/02/15/some-insights-on-coffee-leaf-rust-hemileia-vastatrix/
2. Associated Press. AP http://bigstory.ap.org/article/coffee-fungus-raising-prices-high-end-blends
3. Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/18/us-usa-coffee-rust-idUSKBN0DY0O320140518
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