Coffee rust: a fungus that’s threatening an industry

Lots of us enjoy sipping on a steaming hot cup of coffee. Whether it’s to wake us up first thing in

the morning or to give us a boost mid-afternoon, this popular drink can be the perfect pick-me-

up. But how many of us stop to consider how exactly this beverage comes to be? From the

places coffee beans are grown to the people responsible for picking and processing them, there

is a whole industry out there that many of us never think about.

One thing threatening that industry at present is a disease called coffee rust. Here, we take a

look at what this is, and how charity donations are helping to address the problem.

The facts

The disease is caused by a fungus called hemileia vastatrix and its initial symptoms are yellow

spots that appear on leaves and gradually expand and darken. Eventually, affected leaves drop,

leaving trees looking bear and stopping the growth of bean-producing cherries. Infected trees

usually die within a period of a few years. The disease was known to exist for a long time in a

range of coffee producing areas of India, Africa, Asia and Australasia, and it was first discovered

to be widespread in Brazil in 1970. However, over recent years it has spread much more

aggressively and has been devastating crops in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala,

Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. In 2013 alone, the production of

coffee dropped by a fifth.

The dry season normally kills off the fungus, but unusually wet conditions have allowed the rust

to spread. Also, while plants in altitudes of above 1,000 metres used to be safe, the fungus has

mutated and can now attack plants even at this level.

The impact on farmers – and what is being done to help

Millions of people across Central America are involved in the coffee production industry, and

because of the negative effect this disease is having on crop yields, many workers are

struggling to earn enough to feed their families. However, action is being taken to address these


For example, in affected areas like Plan Del Socorro in Western Honduras, the charity Oxfam is

bringing local community groups together to promote sustainable farming and to help families

who have lost their plantations to replant and maintain their crops using organic and sustainable

methods. It is also empowering communities to push for more government support on climate

change and helping women to influence outcomes by supporting them in community leadership


By making regular donations, you can contribute to this worthy cause. For example, just £20

can buy seeds that enable a family to grow rust-resistant plants and make a decent living for an

entire year, while £120 can train as many as 20 individuals in organic farming techniques that

prevent coffee rust and protect these precious plants.

Coffee rust may pose a major challenge to the industry and to the people working within it, but

campaigns like this are making it easier for affected communities to cope.



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