Mexico’s best season ever in the history of coffee production was 1999-2000, when growers harvested 6.2 million sacks.
But production is now running at less than half that as the roya fungus continues to spread with a devastating effect on a crop that is grown primarily by small producers.
The fungus, also known as coffee leaf rust, was reported as early as the 1980s but it was in 2012 when the damage became widespread, severely impacting national production.
According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), Mexico produced 2.8 million 60-kilogram sacks of coffee during the 2015-2016 season, down 22% from the 3.6 million sacks in 2014-2015. It was the fourth consecutive season of declining output.
Coupled with the onslaught of the roya fungus is the aging of the coffee plants. Plantations such as that of Puebla producer Juan López Guzmán date back to the mid-1970s. Affected by roya since 2014, López decided in June last year to remove the old, dry plants and replace them with young ones of the Catimor Arabica variety, bred to be resistant to the leaf rust.
While López renewed his plantation and bought the new variety on his own, a 1.2-billion-peso (US $66-million) program spearheaded by the Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) will help producers in 13 states renew their crops either partially or completely.
The program’s goal is to plant at least 150 million roya-resistant plants this year. At the end of July, Sagarpa had identified 68,000 small producers that qualified for support.
To date, the program has renewed plants on 90 hectares and is in the process of assessing and inspecting 210 million plants in the field.
Chiapas producer Alfonso Farrera says the crisis for Mexican coffee growers has been in the making for many years, and can be attributed to multiple factors, such as international price declines.
“Production is low because many plantations have old plants, and their yield is less than optimal,” said Farrera, who believes the roya fungus is just the latest blow. “If it isn’t the rains it’s the low prices . . . even after years with good production we can’t earn enough to pay our production costs. Then there’s also a labor shortage during the harvest season.”
Source: Milenio (sp)