Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers (SHCI) has embarked on a relief effort to help Latin American coffee farmers facing an outbreak of Coffee Leaf Rust Disease, known as Roya in Spanish — a parasitic fungus that is expected to destroy between 30 and 70 percent of the region’s organic coffee harvest.
The Roya Recovery Project focuses on tools and training to bring best-practices instruction to the rural coffee sector, SHCI says. Customized for certified organic farmers, the toolkit includes a DVD and training manual that aggregates guidance from coffee industry experts from organizations such as Anacafe, Cenicafe, Comsa and El Valle, among others.
Sustainable Harvest also has launched a website as an online resource for suppliers and others in the industry. The site will include an online forum where farmers, researchers, roasters and other supply chain representatives can share information about topics like chemical treatments, tree replacement, disease-resistant varietals and farm-management best practices.
“As with many crises, there is lots of information available about Roya, but it’s difficult for farmers to discern what is really useful,” said David Griswold, CEO of Sustainable Harvest. “Our goal with the Roya Recovery Project is to work with the industry to help farmers make well-informed decisions so they recover as quickly as possible from the devastation.”
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Roya is considered by many experts to be the single greatest challenge for smallholder farmers, according to SHCI. The situation is even more serious for the organic market because most commercial remedies readily available to farmers involve the use of strong chemical fungicides.
Earlier this year, government officials in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua each declared a state of emergency due to the significant economic impact. It could take more than three years for farmers to fully recover from crop losses.
The Roya relief effort was announced during last week’s Specality Coffee Association of America conference in Boston and has already secured several donors, including Cafe Moto, Cafe Mystique, Green Mountain Coffee and Progreso.
In related news, Starbucks in February announced it will begin sourcing 100 percent of its palm oil from certified sustainable suppliers by 2015, a response to a shareholder resolution filed by the Green Century Balanced Fund, a mutual fund concerned with environmental responsibility.