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FAO collaborates in fight against coffee rust disease in Central America

04/10/2013 1:00 - 

FAO is collaborating with partners in Central America in the fight against coffee rust, a disease currently posing a serious threat to the region’s coffee crop.

Representatives from agriculture ministries and institutions working on coffee met for a regional workshop co-organized by the Organization to discuss how monitoring and early-warning systems can make a significant difference to mitigating the disease.

Caused by the fungal pathogen Hemileia vastatrix, coffee rust causes defoliation and can affect fruit quality. The disease has been present in Latin America since the 1970s, but previously at manageable levels.

However, during the 2012-2013 coffee-growing season there was a dramatic outbreak of the disease over much of Latin America, from Peru, Central America and Mexico to the Dominican Republic. Incidence levels reached 80% in some growing regions with yield reductions of 17% across Central America compared to the previous year.

The impact on coffee yield may be even greater during the 2013-2014 season, due to plant stress and severe phytosanitary pruning. It is expected that over 370 000 jobs will be lost and there will be a direct economic impact of over $500 million in Central America alone.

Early warning systems

Early warning systems, based on direct observation of disease incidence and severity, crop phenology, and key factors responsible for epidemic outbreaks, including temperature and humidity, are used to predict the probability of disease outbreaks, allowing for remedial actions to be taken to prevent severe impacts.

FAO’s Sub-regional Office for Mesoamerica has been working closely with regional governments, coffee institutions and coffee-grower associations along with other regional and international partners including ICO and WFP to develop short, medium and long-term responses to challenges that the coffee sector is facing in the sub-region, recently exacerbated by the rust epidemic and the falling global price of Arabica coffee.

FAO has developed and is implementing a Technical Cooperation Project in the sub-region to support this work. The project’s goals include the development of the early warning system, development of an analysis with recommendations for the coffee sector in the sub-region, and the facilitation of knowledge and information exchange on the key issues facing the coffee sector, with ample South-South collaboration.

The Regional Workshop on Early Warning Systems for Coffee Rust was organized on 23-27 September 2013 under a joint plan of action with regional organizations and projects including PROMECAFE, CAC, OIRSA, RUTA-CAC, CIRAD, FEWSNET, IICA, PRESANCA and WFP.

Submitted by: Allan Hruska in FAO Sub-regional Office for Mesoamerica (allan.hruska@fao.org); Fazil Dusunceli in FAO HQ (fazil.dusunceli@fao.org)