Having recently traveled extensively through Honduras and Costa Rica, I went to check out the growing issue of roya leaf (coffee rust or coffee leaf rust) and its effects on the coffee crop production. First let’s talk about Honduras. We can expect anywhere from 15% to 35% crop losses for next year. The wide discrepancy is due to area elevation and types of trees. Studies have found that coffee trees at lower elevations are more susceptible to leaf rust and plants like Liberica are better resistant.
Roya Leaf Origins
Coffee leaf rust also known as the fungus Hemileia Vastatrix, first appeared in Africa, specifically Kenya around 1861. By the 1920’s it spread to most of Africa and to Asia. Roya leaf did so much damage to the Philippines, Java and Malaya that it caused each country’s coffee industry to collapse and caused Sri Lanka to become a big player in tea. When the fungus was discovered in Brazil in 1970, it was the first recorded occurrence of it in the Western Hemisphere.
How Does It Spread?
Tragically roya leaf damage is today observed worldwide. Its spores are spread by wind, rain, animals AND humans, making it difficult, if not impossible to isolate. Each individual roya leaf lesion can spread up to 300,000 to 400,000 spores! I personally observed farms with 60-70% roya leaf losses and then at the next farm over only a 5% loss. Since this is a fungus, it spreads mainly by air, and I am sure the spores can also be on the unwary picker who moves from farm to farm.
What Can Done To Combat It?
In Costa Rica, farmers have more money to fight the fungus by spraying a solution of copper directly on the underside of the leaves. All in all, Central America will need some $300 million to fight the roya leaf problem. Bottom line, buy Centrals now—the differentials will only be going up. Not only will these coffees be higher priced, it will be difficult to find them.
If you’d like a more in depth analysis on the impact of roya leaf damage in Central America and throughout the coffee belt, please call our Westlake Village office at 800.761.JAVA to speak directly to our staff. We are open M-F, 8AM – 4:30PM PST. You may also reach us by email anytime.