May 18 The Obama administration is teaming up
with researchers from Texas to intensify the battle against a
fungus that has caused $1 billion in damage to coffee plants
across Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. foreign aid
officials said on Sunday.
The so-called leaf rust, or roya, is a yellow and
orange-colored fungus that has swept coffee fields from Mexico
to Peru over the past two years, threatening to stunt production
and drive up the price of Latin American roasts.
Especially hard hit have been Central America's arabica
coffee plants, which produce high-quality beans used in
espressos and gourmet specialty blends that are in growing
demand in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
Moreover, the blight is jeopardizing the livelihood and food
security of about 500,000 people who make their living in the
coffee industry, especially small farmers and seasonal workers,
according to the U.S. Agency for International Development
Mass job losses could in turn leave displaced coffee workers
more susceptible to the illegal drug trade and associated
violence in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El
Salvador, agency spokesman Matthew Herrick said on Sunday.
In a new program to be formally announced on Monday, USAID
is launching a $5 million partnership with Texas A&M
University's World Coffee Research that seeks to eradicate the
fungus, the agency said in a statement.
The partnership will support research to develop
rust-resistant coffee varieties and expand the capability of the
Latin America's coffee institutions to monitor and respond to
outbreaks of the blight, USAID said.
"The current coffee rust outbreak is the worst in Latin
America's history," the agency said in its statement. "It is
estimated that production will fall by as much as 15-40 percent
in the coming years."
Sharply falling production yields would likely result in
U.S. consumers paying more for their favorite roasts at the
local grocery store and coffee shops, officials said.
The program with Texas A&M is part of the Obama
administration's Feed the Future initiative, a global
anti-hunger and anti-poverty effort that USAID said has reached
7 million small farmers and 12.5 million children.
The latest USAID effort brings to $14 million the sum
invested by the agency in the fight against coffee rust,
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Steve Gorman,