Central American coffees have an astounding reputation when it comes to coffee quality. Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and its neighboring countries have been providing the world with excellent green beans for decades. But this year, these countries are having some copper-colored concerns. A disease called coffee rust – or Roya in Spanish – is making a fundamental impact on today’s crops, raising a whole range of questions. We went ahead and answered them for you. (Part 2/2)

The 2012/13 infestation: How bad is it?

Since the end of December, the Central American producers are walking around their plantations nervously. Recent research shows that countries like Honduras and Guatemala are strongly affected by the coffee rust, projecting losses of between 10% and 35% of the 2012/13 crop. Specialized sources say that the 2012/13 coffee rust infestation is turning out to be one of the most severe outbreaks in Central America ever, although we need to wait for more precise statistics to get a clear view of the losses.

Why did such a serious outbreak occur this year?

As shown earlier, Roya is not a recent arrival onto the coffee scene. But only recently it has become a threat of worrying proportions. According to experts, the adverse and volatile weather conditions are to blame. An unfortunate mix of a very rainy season coupled with intermittent warm and humid sunny days has enabled the rust to propagate aggressively through the Central American coffee fincas. Other specialists blame the use of modern farming techniques and cheap pesticides, which have killed off some of the natural ecosystem in coffee trees (such as white halo fungus that protects against coffee rust). Furthermore, due to global warming the temperature in the mountains is up to 2°C higher than before, therefore allowing the Roya to creep higher and affecting more fincas than ever.

What is to be done?

In Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua, the government has declared the Roya crisis to be an official phytosanitary emergency, thus speeding up the flow of money towards fighting the threat. Efforts need to be made on different levels: technology funding, phytosanitary measures, specialized training, replanting programs, etc.

Colombia may be on the right track to the solution of the Roya-problem, applying such an integrated approach: on the one hand, the country is funding research for cross-breeding, hoping to result in a more resistant variation of coffee, without loss of quality. On the other hand, it has improved its weather monitoring techniques to help predict the rust outbreaks in a more timely fashion. The result is that now fewer than 10% of Colombian plants need to be treated with fungicide, thus making the treatment less costly as a whole.

You can read the first part of this Q&A here.

Sofie Nys Sofie Nys

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