Your morning cup of joe may be next on the endangered list. A disease outbreak in Central America is threatening hundreds of thousands of farms by crippling coffee plants and causing their fruits not to ripen. The culprit, called coffee rust, is a leaf-blighting fungus thought to be flourishing now due to climate change. So far more than 50 percent of the coffee plants growing in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama have been affected by coffee rust.
Coffee fields throughout Central America exhibit the same terrifying scene – barren forests of dehabilitated coffee plants. The coffee rust fungus is spreading like wildfire, causing coffee shrubs to literally rot on the branch and preventing fruits from reaching the ripening stage.
Coffee rust was first seen in Central America in the 1970s, but it didn’t pose an industry threat until climate change kickstarted the fungus, allowing it to thrive in warmer, moister air over the past few years. Last year coffee production fell 15 percent, driving up the cost of coffee and putting 400,000 people out of work.
Farmers can try to fight coffee rust by spraying fungicides or changing growing areas, but the fight won’t be easy. Infected trees take years to recover, so scientists are encouraging farmers to take preventative measures. Experts suspect that shifting weather patterns in Central and South America are affecting coffee crops, and they worry that if the trends continues a good cup of coffee will be hard to come by.
Images ©CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture