Perhaps you’ve seen headlines recently prophesying disaster in the coffeelands and the end of cheap coffee. It’s not just hyperbole or a bunch of clickbait: a fungus is eating away at coffee crops.
Coffee leaf rust, often referred to by its Spanish name, roya, is a fungus that attacks the leaves of the coffee tree, causing them to drop. Weakened plants produce lower yields and their cherries yield a lower quality cup. In severe infestations, entire branches and even trees will die. The disease isn’t new. First reported in Kenya in 1861, the disease surfaced in Central and South America in the 1970s, and its severity has increased in the past few years. The epidemic is attributed to a combination of factors including climate change, aging coffee trees, and susceptible coffee plants. USAID states that the disease has caused more than $1 billion in economic damage since 2012, and it estimates that production will fall as much as 15-40% in the next few years.
Providing lasting solutions to farmers to combat rust will take time, but immediate assistance is needed. Farmers most impacted are already living with few safety nets, and lower yields are dramatically impacting their income. Beginning in August 2013, Peace Coffee, along with other members of Cooperative Coffees, agreed to pay an additional five cents per pound for coffees from rust-affected producer cooperatives. The goal is to build a fund which producers can draw on to finance projects aiming to stop the progress of rust. To date over $80,000 has been collected.
Our long-time partners at APECAFORM cooperative in Guatemala have been using funds to establish a test plot to trial rust resistant varieties and practices in local growing conditions. Other co-ops have used the funds for tree nurseries and backpack sprayers for organic solutions to combat the disease.
This spring, in alliance with Root Capital, we have lined up a matching-fund from US AID of up to $1.5 million to be shared by engaged roasters across North America. This means that our five cents per pound commitment has now turned into ten cents per pound that will go back to our producer partners. We’re proud to be building partnerships to support farmer-led solutions to this epidemic.
For more, check out the recent article in the New York Times.