Agricultural officials declare emergency over coffee rust

Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore photo
An example of the rust blotches on a coffee plant leaf.

The agricultural ministry has finally declared an emergency to battle a rust that is doing heavy damage to coffee plants in southern Costa Rica.

The decision to earmark some 2 billion colons to fight the disease comes long after the malady reached epidemic proportions.

A.M. Costa Rica reported Dec. 21 that coffee growers expect to have substantial losses.

Lawmakers heard Tuesday that the principal areas affected by the disease are Pérez Zeledón and Coto Brus and that experts expect to lose 50 percent of the crop in the Brunca region. There are an estimated 10,000 small producers in the region, lawmakers were told.

The disease, roya del cafe, translated in English to “coffee rust,” is a fungus that forms yellow-orange dusty patches on the underside of the leaves.   This causes the coffee plant to lose its leaves, eventually killing the whole plant, said Ronald Peters, executive director for the Instituto del Café de Costa Rica in December.

The rust fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, is spread by the wind and rain. The fungus became known in Africa in the 19th century but did not reach the Americas until about 1970

Xinia Espinoza Espinoza, a lawmaker told her colleagues Tuesday that the producers need an integrated approach that includes credit, maintenance on the coffee plantations and other help for the next three years. The amount allocated for two years of effort is about $4 million. The decree also allows the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería to purchase fungicides and technology to fight the disease.

In addition to the disease, coffee producers are facing declining prices and an unfavorable dry season.

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