Americans enjoy making fun of themselves for buying expensive coffee, but continue to do so on a daily basis. Now those high-priced blends could become even more expensive thanks to a destructive fungus that is destroying coffee crops in Latin America.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), production of Latin American coffee is expected to fall by 15% to 40% in the future. This could lead to job losses for as many as half a million people involved in the farming and production of coffee in these regions. It could also eventually lead to higher prices for high-end Arabica coffee blends.
This is all due to a fungus dubbed “coffee rust” that attacks coffee plants. The most recent outbreak of the fungus has been destroying coffee crops from Mexico down to Peru since at least 2012. According to USAID this coffee rust outbreak is the worst in Latin America’s history.
To combat the outbreak, USAID this week announced a $5 million partnership with Texas A&M University to study and hopefully stop coffee rust from harming the Latin American coffee trade. Through the partnership, researchers with Texas A&M will begin researching coffee strains that are resistant to the fungus, how seeds for those varieties might be distributed throughout the region, and how Latin American countries might better monitor and predict coffee rust outbreaks.
“Coffee rust threatens more than your morning coffee – it affects jobs, businesses, and the security of millions across the Americas,” said Mark Feierstein, associate administrator at USAID. “We must tackle this outbreak to ensure farmers and laborers have stable incomes, don’t start growing illicit crops, or be forced to migrate because they can no longer support their families. This partnership will tap innovative solutions to address the immediate and long-term impacts of coffee rust and help this key agriculture sector rebound.”
This partnership, along with the $9 million more that USAID is investing in coffee rust research and prevention, may give hope to farmers who depend on these high-quality coffees for their livelihoods. A study released in January by University of Michigan ecologists found that the fungicides Latin American farmers have been using to combat coffee rust will not be enough to eliminate the outbreak, as the chemicals also eliminate “good” fungus that can naturally combat coffee rust.
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