Coffee rust, a dreaded fungus known as "la roya" in the coffee growing regions of Southern Mexico and Central America, is shriveling coffee plants, as well as regional and global supply chains.
International prices are up, but local supply is down, reports The New York Times. Coffee plants are dying, and fungicides, in many cases, aren't working. Farmers are forced to decrease seasonal hiring, and these harvest pickers are among the most vulnerable and hardest hit by roya’s spread. In Guatemala, 20 percent of the half-million jobs dependent on the crop have already disappeared, according to Nils Leporowski, the president of Anacafé, the country’s coffee board.
Peter Loach, Mercy Corps' director in Guatemala, told the NYT:
“Roya has exposed the depth of the social and economic problems in terms of people’s vulnerability to the market and to climate change. What makes it different and complicated is that it’s a slow-onset natural disaster over two to three years.”
But two to three years is optimistic when, according to World Coffee Research at Texas A&M University, a resistant hybrid bean could take up to 25-30 years to be developed and reach growers.
A warmer, changing climate allows the fungus to flourish at higher altitudes where plants previously were protected from the disease. The fungus is spreading faster than researchers can work, making for a bleak outlook for coffee farmers--and coffee lovers worldwide.