The next victim of COVID could be your cup of coffee

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – From the 2011-12 growing season, a powdery orange fungus called coffee leaf rust spread like wildfire in Latin and Central America, damaging crops on 70% of farms and causing more $ 3.2 billion in damage. The epidemic is partly due to the 2008 global financial crisis which dampened demand and prices for coffee.

More than a decade later, the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through global economies, and a Purdue University scientist warns of the potential for a new set of problems in the industry Coffee.

“The management boards of these coffee producing countries would send agents to the farmers to make sure they had the proper equipment, access to fungicides, sprayers and information on how to prune, fertilize and sanitize their crops. cultures. After 2008, many of these tips were eradicated or funded, and farmers stopped getting up-to-date information and accessing equipment and fungicides, ”said Catherine Likes, Purdue Professor of Mycology at the College of Agriculture. “Now we are in a worse situation. The COVID pandemic is taking the few resources it had. This makes coffee crops around the world, and particularly in the Americas, vulnerable. “

Aime and his colleagues at Rutgers University, University of Arizona, University of Hawaii at Hilo, University of Santa Clara, University of Exeter and CIRAD, France, have detailed their concerns in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday (June 28). There, they detailed the factors involved in the last major coffee leaf rust outbreak and the stages that could contain future outbreaks.

The global recession of 2008 brought down demand for coffee and prices, which reduced the incomes of coffee producers. These farmers responded by reducing the management of fungal pathogens, such as coffee rust, or by abandoning the farms altogether.

“Coffee growers with limited resources and subject to these conditions often experience a self-reinforcing feedback loop in which declining profits lead to reduced maintenance of the plants. This creates the conditions for CLR to proliferate, resulting in additional losses and reduced profitability, ”the authors wrote.

In turn, this allowed the rust – which causes tree defoliation and a significant decrease in yield – to spread rapidly. The pathogen first reached Hawaii in the fall of 2020, the last place the fungus spared.

COVID has not only diverted resources from coffee management, it has also closed borders – limiting or eliminating the movement of migrant workers essential for coffee harvests in Latin America and Central America.

Without harvests, profits fall further and the feedback loop intensifies.

Without efforts to eradicate coffee leaf rust, global coffee supplies could dwindle and make it more difficult for coffee lovers to get their morning solutions.

The researchers suggest a number of measures that could help tackle rust problems: source coffee from more areas, including those not as badly affected by the fungus; diversify the farms and livelihoods of coffee farmers; increasing prices paid to farmers and promoting more sustainable management practices; increasing coffee consumption and demand to increase the prices paid to farmers; and develop cooperatives and partnerships to pool the resources, knowledge and funding of coffee producers.

Much of the current research aimed at controlling coffee leaf rust involves developing resistant cultivars. This technique tends to be most successful in Robusta beans, which are considered to be of lower quality than Arabica. Resistant cultivars also tend to lose this resistance over time as the fungus evolves.

Aime received funding from the Food and Agriculture Research Foundation to begin preliminary work on coffee leaf rust genome sequencing and genotype rust races. She is seeking more funding to complete this work so that coffee cultivars can be better designed to resist rust or to understand rust weaknesses so that more effective fungicides can be developed.

“New cultivars are the focus of attention right now because it’s a quicker fix, but it won’t be the long-term answer,” Aime said. “We need to get as much information as possible about this pathogen to fix this problem permanently.”

Writer: Brian Wallheimer; 765-532-0233; [email protected]

Source: Cathie Aime; 765-496-7853; [email protected]

Epidemics and the future of coffee production

Kevon Rhiney, Zack Guido, Chris Knudson, Jacques Avelino, Christopher M. Bacon, Grégoire Leclerc, Daniel P. Bebber, M. Catherine Aime


In this perspective, we draw on recent scientific research on the coffee leaf rust (CLR) epidemic that has severely affected several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past decade to explore how socio The economic effects of COVID-19 could lead to the reappearance of another rust epidemic. We describe how past outbreaks of CLR have been linked to reduced crop care and investment in coffee plantations – as evidenced by the years following the global financial crisis of 2008. We discuss the relationships between the incidence of CLR, farming practices at farmer level and economic signals transferred through global and local effects. We contextualize how the current impacts of COVID-19 on work, unemployment, stay-at-home orders and international border policies could affect farmers’ investments in coffee factories and in turn create favorable conditions for farmers. future shocks. We conclude by asserting that the socio-economic disruptions of COVID-19 are likely to drive the coffee industry into another serious production crisis. While this argument highlights the vulnerabilities that arise from a globalized coffee system, it also underlines the need to ensure the well-being of all. By increasing investments in coffee institutions and paying smallholders more, we can create a fairer and healthier system that is more resilient to future socio-ecological shocks.

Agricultural communications: 765-494-8415;

Maureen Manier, Head of Department, [email protected]

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