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Coffee rust fungus erodes Central American bean supply

Hemileia vastatrix, causing coffee rust
Hemileia vastatrix, causing coffee rust
Wikicommons: permission granted by Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

A fungus known as coffee rust has decimated much of the coffee bean crop in Central America to the tune of more than a $1 billion dollars, threatening not only the economies of Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and El Salvador, but the ability of US citizens to enjoy their daily cups of Joe at reasonable prices. According to Raj Shad, head of the US Agency for International Development, “coffee production in these countries could drop anywhere from 15%-40% in the next few years, resulting in a job loss for more than 500,000 people in some of the poorest countries.

While major US coffee companies have been able to find enough supply to maintain prices at current levels, including blander beans from Asia and other regions, higher quality blends depend on beans from the small high altitude farms in Latin America, particularly Arabica beans, which are the most susceptible to the fungus, which is carried by airborne spores and is highly contagious among the plants.

To help contain the devastation, Shah is expected to announce a $5 million partnership between his agency and Texas A & M University’s World Coffee Research Center to try and find a way of killing off the fungus for good. In the meantime Leonardo Lombardini of the Center stated that “We don’t see an end in sight anytime soon.”