Coffee growers seeking more financial aid to offset plague

University of Michigan file photo Rust shows up as spots and dead areas on a leaf.

As the rust plague that is harming many coffee plants in the region continues to spread, many farmers in the coffee sector are asking the legislature for help.

This help would come in the form of a 20 billion colon or $40 million trust that would be available to 42,000 coffee producers in Costa Rica.

“This money is an instrument of assistance for the care of their needs because the amount of coffee they produce has been reduced,” said Guido Vargas, representative of coffee producers, in a release.

According to spokespersons, crop owners lost 94 million pounds of coffee between 2012  and the beginning of 2013.  A report released by the Instituto del Café de Costa Rica last month showed that $16 million of the harvest was lost to this disease.

President Laura Chinchilla and Gloria Abraham, agriculture minister, signed a bill in March to set up the trust to provide support for non-reimbursable seed capital, social programs for families, help for coffee plantations in the first stages of the disease, the renewal of plantations with coffee plants that have developed tolerance for the disease and a line of credit with favorable interest rates for the renewed plantations, said the coffee institute.  The money would be distributed by the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

Persons who would benefit from the money would have to have produced equal to or less than about 2,300 kilos of coffee to apply.  More than 80 percent of the coffee-growing population meets this requirement, the coffee institute reported.

The bill is now in the legislative assembly awaiting adoption.

The rust epidemic is not something new to Costa Rica but dates back to 1983, said a detailed article by engineer Miguel Barquero Miranda from the investigation unit of the coffee institute.  The disease, which attacks the leaves of the coffee plant and turns them yellow, arrived on the American continent in 1970 and spread throughout Central and South America.

In Costa Rica, it first attacked north of the Central Valley in San Carlos de Venice.  In a year, it was detected all over the nation. The agriculture ministry and coffee institute conducted researched and formed training sessions on how to combat the disease including proper planting and appropriate fertilizer and fungicide usage to prevent and cure the disease.

Over the years, Costa Ricans learned to adapt and live with the disease, said Barquero.  The latest emergence of problems comes from the gradual change in the attention given to coffee plantations as well as the variations in temperatures especially from the La Niña effect that changed the frequency of rain and increased cloud coverage in 2011.

The solution, Barquero described, is for cultivators to start a proper cultural management of their plantations and to make sure to apply fertilizers and fungicides at the appropriate times.

In the mean time, the research to find plants with a long-lasting resistance to coffee rust will continue.

“In Costa Rica we must return to our looking toward this disease, not because of these recent severe problems, but to prevent that may affect us in the near future,” he said.

Barquero’s research as well as other information on the disease can be downloaded HERE!

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