According to new research the COVID-19 pandemic is probably going to cause what authors called a “severe production crisis” in coffee as multifaceted web of socio-economic factors make conditions worse for small coffee farmers.
The multi university study including Rutgers, Purdue, the University of Hawaii, CIRAD, Exeter and Santa Clara University, looked at the leaf rust outbreaks in the Americas in the past and the recent outbreaks elsewhere of the crop-killing disease.
The study also discovered links between a lack of investment in coffee farms under poor socio-economic conditions, the increased prevalence of leaf rust and poor conditions for farmers and other players in the coffee production chain.
The study concluded that further socio-economic problems caused by COVID-19, like impacts on labor and reductions investments, are probably going not create long-term shocks that will threaten global production levels. The final link in this chain will be increased cost for everyday coffee consumers.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency, also known as the EPA, has approved a request from Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture to allow coffee farmers the use of a chemical fungicide in the state’s ongoing battle against the extremely devastation leaf rust disease.
Coffee leaf rust has appeared in nearly every country or region in which coffee is cultivated on a commercial level over the past 150 years. It was discovered for the very first time in the state of Hawaii in October 2020 on Hawaii’s island Maui.
It was discovered in November on Hawaii’s “big island” where a large portion of the state’s commercial coffee is grown. This includes the popular Kona coffee.
Coffee leaf rust has the ability to destroy, quickly, large portions of farmer’s crops. Between 2012 and 2017 coffee leaf rust caused an estimated $3 billion dollars in loss for coffee producers throughout Latin America.
That same threat hovers of the heads of and crops of coffee farms in Hawaii. The market value of green coffee grown in Hawaii in the 2019-2020 season was estimated at $102 million and the value of roasted coffee at $148 million. If coffee leaf rust isn’t stopped in Hawaii the outcome could easily be economically devastating for the industry.
The price of coffee is often discussed from a vague and abstract lens when the conversation is had in the country of consumption rather than production. Falling prices aren’t always seen as bad. And sometimes falling prices aren’t. But the viewpoint is often neutral and somewhat detached from the people who produce the product.
As one might expect though, fluctuations in price can have very really impacts on the lives of the farmers. In Peru, many farmers have moved on to a more stable and a hundred percent more illegal crop, coca.
Academics from the UK who have been studying the growth of coca production in Peru have interviewed many farmers who have lost faith in coffee farming.
Some farmers where recorded as saying things like “coffee used to be the golden bean.” But they say that with leaf rust and falling prices the minds of many have been changed. Many claim that coffee is more work than pay off.
Coffee shrubs take years to reach their full potential and are delicate and finicky. Also, it is only harvested once or maybe twice a year. Coca on the other hand is almost the complete opposite. It is easy to grow and can be harvested multiple times a year.