Roya (AKA Coffee Rust) Attacks Central America Coffee Trees

If you’re a coffee fan, we’re sure you’ve heard of the coffee tree’s sworn enemy: Roya!

If you’re not aware of roya, it’s time to open your eyes and read up because, believe it or not, roya is becoming a major problem in some areas of the world…and kills the coffee trees we know and love!

What is Roya?  

Roya, also known as Hemileia vastatrix, also known as coffee rust, is devastating coffee plantations in Central America and may adversely impact coffee production by as much as two to three million pounds this year alone. This nasty perpetrator is a type of fungus that causes coffee leaf rust which can kill coffee plants. Roya is a parasitic fungus that feeds on the coffee leavesfor its own survival.  It’s a shifty fungus as well—it doesn’t just attack the berries, and it goes for the leaves (the berries’ support system).

What Does Roya Do?

The orange powdery legions attack the underside of a coffee tree’s foliage, consuming the leaves until they fall off and die.

This may not seem like a big deal because who cares about leaves of a coffee tree? It’s only the coffee berries that matter right? Wrong. We must care about the entire coffee trees because a healthy coffee plant produces better beans. The leaves are important to a coffee plant because they aid in photosynthesis, which any amateur botanist will tell you, “More photosynthesize equals more prize”.  The prize in this case, is great coffee.

Why Is Roya a Problem?  

Any trace of roya is a big deal—especially to those countries that rely on coffee exporting as an economy stabilizer. As a matter of fact, the Guatemalan Coffee Institute issued a state of emergency due to the roya problem.  The organization found that roya will generate as much as a 40% loss of the 2013-2014crops.

How Can We Prevent Roya?

Unfortunately, even fungicides that were predicted to kill off any trace of the coffee rust have been no match for the deadly fungus.  The cause of roya’s resurgence, even with the fungicide, is uncertain, but most believe inconsistent use and lack of effectiveness paired with modern growing practices is to blame. In an effort to stop the roya problem, scientists are experimenting with cross-breeding roya-resistant coffee plants with non-resistant plants.  Lucky for us, these scientists are seeing some products.

Roya and You

So how does this directly impact you, the local coffee consumer?

Roya creates a classic supply-and-demand issue. Coffee rust kills the leaves on the coffee plant. Without the leaves, the coffee plant will produce less beans. Fewer beans means there are fewer beans available in the market.  As any novice economist will tell you, as supply decreases, price goes up.

To help pick up some of the slack, Brazil and Colombia have increased production in an effort to negate the losses from the rest of Central America. This, paired along with falling demandof coffee in Europe, is expected to lead to a fall in prices.

Although the price of coffee will either decrease or stay the same, roya is still a major problem in Central America.  If coffee rust isn’t contained, we’ll see less and less beans in the market and ultimately, higher prices. So what should we do about theroya problem?  An emergency forum has yet to outline a regional strategy for Central America, however, a strategy is being discussed.  Bottom line—the more scientists continue to test, the better chance we have of solving the roya crisis.