La Roya: rust that kills coffee trees

by Paul Katzeff | CEO, Thanksgiving Coffee

Roya affecting coffee trees in Nicaragua

“Rust” is a word with an ominous sound. It ruins older cars, renders tools useless, and is a major reason for the use of paint to preserve everything made from iron. In Central America there are two kinds of rust. The kind that corrodes iron and the kind that kills coffee trees. The latter rust, called “La Roya” is a Fungus that is pernicious. It lives on the leaves, sucking the life out of them. They fall off and do not return. Coffee cherries never ripen, and the tree eventually dies. This is not a good thing for a coffee farmer whose survival depends on coffee.

Unripened coffee cherries on a rust-affected tree.La Roya is worse than a 60 cent per pound market price, which is a monumental crisis, but there is always another season, and hope for higher prices for the farmer. La Roya is no crop, then three to five years of rehabilitation of the coffee farm. In other words, it is the end of family life on the farm. It is the end of a way of life, of culture, of living on the land. It means hunger, it means migration to the cities, it means over crowding and the deterioration of family life as country people are forced to work in urban factories making clothing for two dollars a day.

La Roya is here and unless a major battle is waged to beat it back, Central American coffee will be a thing of the past, and coffee prices will rise as the supply of quality coffee is diminished.  This is not Chicken Little talking here. This is absolutely a disaster about to happen – this year.

Alexa and her sonsThis February, I was in the Nuevo Segovia Region of Nicaragua on a coffee buying trip. I visited the farm of a member of the PRODECOOP Cooperative. Alexa and her two teenage sons live two kilometers from the Honduras boarder. Many of their coffee trees are affected by La Roya, and are starting to lose their leaves. They got a crop this year, but next year they expect to get 50% less. I have no idea how they will be able to continue making a living. They produced 10 sacks (1500 lbs) this year, for which we paid $ 2.75 per pound. That was double the world price and the highest we could afford to pay.

Alexa views the damage to her farmAlexa’s coffee is fabulous and we want her coffee farm to thrive. We want her to be able to refresh her trees and beat the Rust. Next year, she will need to get $ 5.50/lb. to survive on her farm. Will you support our effort by paying $2.75 more per pound for her coffee next year? Would you pay more than $15.00 for a bag of her coffee?

Well, first you have to taste it. We will present her coffee to our public in July when it arrives. It is going to cost her about $8,000 to rehabilitate her farm. We are going to try to raise that money between now and December.

That’s the way Direct Trade works – we are all in this coffee thing together.

Paul Katzeff, CEO
Thanksgiving Coffee Company

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Comments (7)

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    Mary Fouts

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    Paul: The San Francisco Chronicle recently had an article on this enormous problem. As a loyal Thanksgiving Coffee Customer, are there particular coffees that I and other customers can purchase now to help? Maybe as simple as Nicaraguan coffees? (Which I love.) I, for one, am willing to pay more per pound to help with this epidemic. Thank you.

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      pk

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      Mary,
      Nothing we can do now . The Nica and Guatemala crops are harvested and the 2013/4 crop is probably flowering now.
      We are going to work with our Nicaraguan farmers and specifically try to help one farmer, Alexa and her particular farm.
      Perhaps we can help her family survive this messy problem . It’s just another instance of how Global Warming impacts coffee. In the
      Western USA we have the Pine Beetle doing the same thing to Pine Trees. The climate gets warmer and stasis is disrupted as the parasite colony gets stronger and like a pack of wolves attacking a big Elk, the colony overwhelms the once resistant tree. We need to recognize that this coffee rust is just the tip of the iceburg.
      Paul

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        JT

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        This problem is not caused only by Global Warming. Unsustainable farming and the uniform cultivation of plants leaves little room for the proper ventilation between plants which magnify the problem.
        Plant selection and location of planting are also an issue. The leveling of forests to build additional plantations also decreases healthy biodiversity and increases global warming.

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    • Avatar

      Paul Katzeff

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      I may have thanked you previously but thanks again. We are puting together a simple project to restore Alexa’s farm. We are going to use various forms of fund raising and the project will be designed to enable other roasters to rally their troops to save other farms by using the model we create .
      Stay tuned and yes, Nicaraguan coffee is a good purchase because it is new crop, fresh and bright.
      Paul

      Reply

      • Avatar

        Mary Fouts

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        Paul: I recently ordered Nicaraguan beans: Flor de Jinotega and Byron’s Maracaturra. While your beans are always fantastic, these are simply exceptional. Extra bright, secondary flavors very alive. Highly recommended; please keep us updated on the La Roya situation. Mary Fouts

        Reply

  • Avatar

    Nina Kornstein

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    You say “It is going to cost her about $8,000 to rehabilitate her farm.” How will she rehabilitate it? Plant resistant varieties? Use chemicals? What is her plan?

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Paul Katzeff

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      She will have to pray allot. That is free.
      Then she will have to replant using resistant varieties.
      It will take a couple of years. This yeat we putchased 1500 pounds from her . We paid $2.27/pound to her . Next year we may have to pay her $8.00/ pound to get her enough money to do the work.
      I will expect her to pay me back slowly over the next decade with coffee .
      I believe she would not want charity.
      Paul

      Reply

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