A coffee rust fungus is generating a lot of discussion in the coffee world. Coffee trees from Mexico to Panama have been attacked by this orange, rust-looking fungus, Hemileia Vastatrix. In April 2013, The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) discussed and explored this issue at their annual Symposium. There was also an International Coffee Rust Summit that month to do the same. The future of specialty coffee could be at a major risk.
Roya, the Spanish word for the fungus, grows on the underside of the leaf on the coffee tree. The fungus will continue to spread throughout the leaves, preventing the tree from receiving nutrients. Without the nutrition from the leaves, the cherries that contain the “coffee bean” will not fully mature, and when brewed as coffee, it will lack much of its typical flavor. The outbreak was fueled by excessive amounts of rain in Colombia in 2008, which spread the disease throughout the country and into more Central American countries. While Colombia is on the mend with the help of various preventive measures, countries such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras are suffering. When the rust attacks half of a tree’s leaves, the farmer is forced to cut the tree down, leaving it unusable for 3 years and the farm in economic turmoil.
To combat the Roya, farmers are using excessive fungicides and planting rust-resistant, genetically altered plants. This puts a heavy strain on organic coffees, leaving many specialists to doubt organic coffees’ survival. The focus of the meetings in April were solving this issue, and the UN is even looking to hire a “Leaf Rust Response Coordinator” who will lead the fight against this damaging fungus.
Being the second most valuable trade commodity in the world, coffee’s survival for economic stability is very important. Some farms have seen as much as 70 percent of their crops affected by this fungus. Central America is already expected to have losses up to $500 million this year alone, which is why the governments of these countries are supplying aid so heavily to coffee farms in their area.
How does this affect us? Well, first we could see a lack of coffee quality from the Central American region, then very likely a rise in coffee prices. Jeff Vojta, Co-founder and President of Stockton Graham & Co., says, “Our biggest concern is for the future of our quality Central American coffees. Climate change, in addition to the Roya, is causing even more damage. Hopefully they have caught this in time, and high quality coffee will still be available to market.” While we are currently not affected, we have already begun to see the prices on certain coffees from Central America start to rise, which could affect our prices in the future.
For more updates on the coffee fungus crisis, or other news in the specialty coffee world, be sure to check out our website. If you are not currently signed up to receive our monthly newsletter, register on the website or give us a call at 800.835.5943 to have one of our customer care associates add you to our mailing list!
Coffee-Leaf Rust is Tough Enemy to Attack – Leslie Josephs – The Wall Street Journal 5/14/13
Fungus Wreaks Havoc on Coffee Crop – Leslie Josephs – The Wall Street Journal 5/14/2013
Coffee Workers Unemployed as Fungus Hits Central America: Jobs – Anna Edgerton, Adam Williams and Marvin G. Perez – Bloomberg Businessweek 4/23/2013
Overheard at the First International Coffee Rust Summit – Michael Sheridan- Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine 4/22/13
United Nations Hiring Leaf Rust Response Coordinator -Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine 5/8/2013