I just returned from 7 days in the Chiapas Region of Mexico. During that time we toured (mostly walked) 16 coffee farms in several areas of Chiapas.
The main topic of conversation with the farmers this year is a fungus called Roya (rust). Roya shows up as a brownish red spot on the underside of the leaves. As the problem progresses the whole leaf will change color.
Ultimately, the leaf will wilt and fall from the tree. Roya will also affect some of the current crop of coffee berries if they have not been picked.
The epidemic started in Costa Rica earlier this year and has spread into Guatemala, Southern Mexico (where the good coffee is grown) Panama. I surmise it is also a problem in Honduras, etc., but I have no direct knowledge.
Roya spreads by direct contact, thus a contaminated worker can infect all of the coffee trees he touches as he goes about his duties. To kill the fungus, fungicide must be sprayed on both the top and underside of the leaves. This is time consuming, expensive and labor intensive.
The larger, better financed farmers are spraying aggressively and are making some headway although I saw Roya all over the farms.
The small, under-financed farmers do not have the money to spray the fungicide and the impact will be disastrous – a smaller crop this year and no crop next year.
The Chiapas farmers with whom I talked are all very concerned. We spent a few nights on Finca Hamburgo which has about 800 hectares of coffee under cultivation. The farmer believes that 40% of his trees are affected and he will have a much smaller crop this year.
However, if the Roya is not contained the big impact will be next year as the tree will have to put all of it’s energy into replacing the leaves and will have nothing left to grow the coffee cherries. That would result in a much smaller crop next year.
I don’t want to be an alarmist, but the farmers feel that this is a very serious situation that will impact the crop, and there for their earnings this year and next.