During a trip to origin this past February, we witnessed the devastating Roya disease affecting the coffee crops in Central America, including Guatemala. Roya, or coffee leaf rust, is a parasitic fungus that deprives the coffee plant of nutrients which results in the plant losing its leaves. Without foliage the plant is unable to breathe, ceasing to produce fruit and eventually dies. 1
Many Central American countries, including Honduras and Costa Rica, have declared a state of emergency due to this disease. On February 7, 2013 Guatemala joined this list of countries as Otto Perez Molina, the President of Guatemala, declared a national emergency. Nils Leporowsky, President of the National Coffee Association of Guatemala, known as Anacafe, said out of the 667,000 acres of coffee planted in Guatemala, 477,000 acres have rust. That is 70 percent of the total coffee crop affected by rust! President Molina fears that in the coming years coffee production could drop by 40 percent due to this outbreak. This would be devastating to the Guatemalan economy as coffee is the largest employer of labor.
While on our tour of Finca Pastores, coffee producer Hans Masch described how low coffee
yields could force small producers to walk away from the industry. Famine is already an issue in Guatemala, and this outbreak could exacerbate the issue, as coffee workers will have less money to feed their families. To combat this disease, the Guatemalan government released $14 million to aid coffee growers. This money will help 60,000 small coffee farmers buy pesticides and also finance instruction to teach them how to prevent the disease andstop it from spreading.
While reading this article you may wonder how a crop disease in Central America is relevant; however this epidemic could possibly affect your wallet. Coffee prices are at a low right now due to a surplus from record yields in Brazil. However, coffee sector analysts are forecasting prices could rise later this year as the output from Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica will be significantly lower due to the rust. Controlling the further spread of this parasitic fungus is a critical issue everyone in the coffee industry, including consumers, will continue to watch.