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Roya Epidemic and CoopCoffees Response

One of the biggest challenges facing our producer partners and coffee farmers throughout Central and South America is Leaf Rust, or Roya. Following trips by staff and roaster members to affected regions earlier this year – showing both the devastation and some hopeful experiences – many of our Cooperative roaster / members have been asking how we can better support our producer partners in this difficult period.

Roya leafCoffee Leaf Rust, or Roya - a naturally occurring fungus in coffee plantations is causing “crisis conditions” for Central American coffee farmers. The Roya epidemic sweeping through the region hits devastating  proportions when the unseasonal and extended heat and humidity allows for its massive propagation – creating the “perfect storm” conditions that hit Central America last season and is now entering into South America. 

“As Asociacion Chajulense we hope we will be able to continue functioning as a cooperative exporter of organic coffees,” says Chajulense General Coordinator Arcadio Daniel Galindo. “Culturally, this (organic systems) is the only way our families know how to produce that is in keeping with our beliefs and customs; and coffee is the only viable income-source we have in this region to support our families.”

This harvest with a decrease in yields of approximately 30% and an anticipated decrease of nearly 50% in yields for some Chajulense communities next harvest, the impact will be devastating. 

Roya attacks the leaves - the primary source of photosynthesis, which not only affects ripening of the current season berries, but also lowers carbohydrate accumulation in roots and shoots. This can cause the next harvest flowers to drop prematurely, can kill the branch or the entire tree... thereby affecting not only the current crop but overall coffee yields for the next 2 to 5 years to come - as affected farmers’ fields recover.

CURRENT SITUATION IN CENTRAL AMERICA

According to the International Coffee Organization, Central American countries have estimated production losses due to coffee leaf rust from the past harvest: Guatemala (33.33%), Costa Rica (30-40%) and 15% - 25% in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. But despite the dire situation (Honduras declared a “State of Emergency” due to the fungus) our producer partners say little real support has come for small-scale, organic farmer groups.  Instead, industry and government relief proposals are relying on an intensive, chemical package solution.

Following separate trip reports back from our staff and roaster members in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua earlier this year – showing both the devastation and some hopeful experiences – many of our Cooperative roaster / members have been asking how they can better support our producer partner in this difficult period.  

As a result, following consultation with producer partners and members, Coop Coffees will be initiating a special Roya Relief fund, starting immediately, with additional per/pound charges collected off the sale of the coffees of our affected partners.

These funds will be allocated to partners (in proportion to the volumes we purchase) to be applied to specific projects focused on re-planting, organic fertilization or intensive organic training programs, food security garden projects or other initiatives to generate additional family income. 

Simultaneously, we are exploring alternative “macro-initiatives” (such as linking our purchase contracts to long-term credits, supporting greater farmer to farmer exchange of best organic practices and exploring external fund-raising via allied not-for profits organizations. Stay tuned for progress reports – as this unfortunate phenomenon looks like it is here for the long haul.

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