A fungus sweeping across Central America is destroying coffee crops and causing exports to plunge, The New York Times reports.
The “coffee rust” fungus, also called la roya, has been thriving in recent years because of climate change, experts say. Higher temperatures across Central America have allowed the fungus to grow at higher altitudes.
Growers have tried spraying fungicide on their crops to combat the coffee rust, but it hasn’t worked.
The fungus can also zap coffee beans of their flavour, according to The Wall Street Journal. A coffee buyer who talked to the Journal last year said the coffee she tasted in Honduras was “very underdeveloped” and void of its usual flavours.
The Times details how the coffee rust has affected local economies in Central America as big farmers hire fewer workers to pick ripe coffee cherries, small farmers go into debt, merchants sell less, kids drop out of school to work for their parents, and landless migrant workers are paid even less.
“If you frame this in terms of everyone that is connected to the economics of coffee, it’s a very serious problem,” Roberto de Michele, a specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank who is based in Guatemala City, told The Times.
Crops have been devastated by the fungus — Bloomberg reports that about 40% of Guatemala’s 2013-2014 crop could be lost to the fungus. Guatemala’s coffee harvest shrank 15% last year, according to The Times.
The fungus could drive up coffee prices across the globe.
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