Can Central American officials stop the coffee fungus?

February 18, 2013

Agriculture ministers from Central America and the Caribbean will meet on Tuesday in Costa Rica to search for a solution to a damaging coffee fungus known as “roya” that has decimated crops.

The rust fungus (Hemileia vastratrix) dries coffee leaves and causes fruit to prematurely fall off the plant. The fungus is spread by contact from one leaf to another, and farmers must completely prune affected plants to restore their ability to produce.

Roya has already caused the loss of 35 percent of the coffee harvest in Costa Rica, 40 percent in Nicaragua and 60 percent in Guatemala.

Costa Rica declared last month a state of emergency, and the Agriculture Ministry is expected to grant $2 billion to farmers to buy chemicals to fight the fungus.

Members of the Central American Organization of Coffee Exporters estimate that losses in the region could reach 4 million quintales (sacks of 46 kilos).

The meeting brings together ministers from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Mexican Agriculture Vice Minister Jesús Aguilar also will attend the meeting as an observer. Aguilar is accompanying Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto during his visit to Costa Rica for the summit of the Central American Integration System.

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