World's Coffee Supply In Danger Due To Roya Fungus
May 15, 2013

World’s Coffee Supply In Danger Due To Roya Fungus

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

A case of coffee leaf rust is threatening a large portion of the coffee crop in Central America, threatening the jobs of local coffee growers. This, in turn, could lead to higher prices for those who enjoy a cup of Latin American coffee.

Coffee leaf rust, better known as the fungus Roya, has affected coffee growers in the past. This year it looks to cause upwards of $500 million in damages and 374,000 lost jobs in Central America, according to a report from the International Coffee Organization (ICO).

By their estimation, the ICO said this is the worst outbreak of coffee leaf rust since the fungus first arrived in Central America. The orange colored scourge can wreak havoc on the leaves of the coffee plant and even prevent the cherry surrounding the coffee bean from ripening. This can lead to a flavor far different from the typical taste found in beans from this region. If the cherry isn´t able to ripen fully, the coffee's flavor will become underdeveloped.

According to Mercury News, Guatemala-Based PROMECAFE is predicting that the Roya fungus will damage crops in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua and elsewhere. As large contributors to the world´s coffee supply, this fungal outbreak could reduce the world´s coffee production by 162,000 metric tons, or 17 percent.

This epidemic has already been noted by some of the world´s largest coffee buyers, including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Folgers and Starbucks. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), these companies and others met with local governments and agronomists to discuss their next course of action. This meeting has been called an “emergency summit” as the companies who funnel millions of dollars into the area looked to address the problem head on.

"We obviously have some significant business interest in securing the coffee supply chain," says Lindsey Bolger, the head coffee buyer for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in a statement to the Journal.

Though they were unable to agree on an immediate action plan, local governments are helping farmers fight against Roya by providing them with fungicides.

Such a massive Roya outbreak is also threatening the livelihood of some 2 million Central American residents who work in the coffee industry. According to Bloomberg, many of these workers are cutting their losses early and leaving the fields for the US, San Salvador, or the local military. To keep workers in the area, the Guatemalan government announced a temporary employment plan in March.

This plan temporarily puts those who once worked on coffee farms to work on highway maintenance projects or reforestation work. Though these individuals are still able to work, they´re making far less than they had been, from around $9 a day to just over $5.

Those workers who have been affected in Honduras are offered a similar opportunity. The government there has created a program wherein displaced workers can help replace damaged plants on neighboring farms.

“Our hope is that all the workers who lost their jobs will be able to continue working in coffee,” said Victor Hugo Molina, the general manager of the Honduran Coffee Institute in a March interview with Bloomberg. “By reconstructing damaged farms, they remain in the coffee industry.”