Leaf rust makes safety net necessary for coffee growers

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Instead of blaming coffee leaf rust fungus for negatively impacting coffee production in Colombia, the country and the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation issued a news release touting the aid to the country’s coffee growers as necessary because of growers needing to “adapt to new climate conditions.”

“The coffee plantation conversion process for new trees resistant to the coffee leaf rust fungus began five years ago. More than $1.4 billion dollars have been invested to make plantations more resilient to this devastating fungus that is affecting coffee growers in other countries. More than two billion trees or 54 percent of the country's plantations have been changed (replanted to resistant varieties) or stumped since 2008,” the news release explained.

The attack on coffee production in Central and South America is becoming endangered because of the rust, and no source is attributed to saying its spread is because of climate change encouraging the rust. The leaf rust, not the climate, is a major concern and devastating coffee production.

“Recently, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras declared a state of phytosanitary emergency due to the growing incidence of coffee rust attacks on their plantations. Officials have already issued concerns about affected volumes of their crops for the 2013-2014 seasons. According to the president of the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers of El Salvador, Alvaro Fiallos, more than 41,000 hectares of coffee have been lost because of the fungus, and the Coffee Institute (Icafe) estimates that coffee rust will be responsible for a 10 percent drop in Costa Rica's coffee harvest,” it was noted.

At the same time as the leaf rust has hit Columbia, there has been an appreciation of the Colombian peso that resulted in lower incomes for coffee farmers. Tie this to the number of coffee trees that have been replanted but are not into production yet, and the coffee industry in Columbia is hurting. The talk about safety nets for farmers in the U.S. pales to the need for a safety net for small-scale coffee growers in a developing nation.

A form of safety net went into place in October—the Farmer's Income Support program—and it has cost the government $52 million dollars so far. That number could reach $80 million by July, according to estimates. Aside from monetary aid to farmers, the program also supports coffee producers by providing more access to fertilizers.

Colombia produced 7.8 million bags of 60 kilos (132 pounds) of green coffee in 2012. This year's Colombian harvest is expected to exceed 10 million bags, reports the Coffee Growers Federation.  There is faith that the new trees will spur continued recovery as new plantations move into the production phase without contracting the fungus.

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