La Roya’s Return: How Can Coffee Farmers Survive?

The following is a guest post from Heifer International. See the NCA First Pull guest post guidelines

By Marco Machado, Heifer International

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Photo: Stephanie Parker, via Medium

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Orangish yellow blotches are starting to appear on the leaves of coffee plants in eastern Honduras, according to reports from the field. It’s a sign that the dreaded coffee rust fungus, or la roya, is making a comeback and endangering the crop that’s vital to the economies of Latin America.

Five years ago, an outbreak decimated coffee in the region, triggering a state of emergency and famine watches.

How bad will it be this season? It’s too early to tell. All we know is that the plant-choking fungus – first discovered in East Africa nearly 150 years ago – poses a serious threat to coffee’s future in the Americas.

As we search for a way to defeat the fungus, the coffee industry can help smallholder farmers build resiliency and deal with shocks from la roya – as well as from climate change, market swings, and other volatility common with cash crops.

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Seeding Coffee’s Future: A Conversation About Conservation and Verification

By Hanna Neuschwander, World Coffee Research

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An unidentified Coffea species found in Madagascar, which is preserved in a coffee genebank. Ensuring these genebanks have adequate funding to continue operations should be a major priority of the coffee industry. Source: Sarada Krishnan

Sometimes facts are so obvious they become invisible.

In the case of coffee, one of those facts is this: Coffee comes from a plant. The entire $225 billion dollar coffee industry in the U.S. is built up from the roots of billions of living, breathing coffee plants that spend their days turning sunlight into fruit. Once you stop and think about it, it’s kind of profound. Nearly 1.7 million jobs — including, if you are reading this, probably yours — depend on those plants doing their thing, photosynthesizing, outsmarting diseases and pests, being rained on at the right time in the right amounts.

It’s also profound to think about just how fragile the entire arrangement is. The vast majority of coffee plants in the field today are really, really (really) genetically similar. Most varieties are not resistant to major diseases. Most are way too old (World Coffee Research guesses that about 50% of coffee trees are more than 50 years old). That leaves coffee especially vulnerable — to disease epidemics like the one that devastated Central American production after 2012, to extremes in weather like excessive rain or drought or frost.

When crops are facing challenges like these, it helps to go back to basics: Coffee is a plant. So — what is needed to help the plant thrive? And, thereby, to help the humans who depend on it?

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Leading To The Future: Innovation and Your Coffee Business

By William (Bill) M. Murray, CAE, CEO, National Coffee Association

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Despite the fact that coffee has been part of the human experience for centuries, innovation is now a necessity for companies across all sectors of the coffee industry – more than ever before.  In fact, if you search online for “innovate or die” you’ll easily return more than a half a million results.

What are the factors driving this change? How do we approach and address the challenges? How do we focus strategies and resources to adjust for success? And how can individual executives and business owners come up with new ideas?

First, here’s a snapshot of the issues:

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Why Are Coffee Prices So Volatile?

By Julio Sera, INTL FC Stone

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For those of us who wake up each morning in pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee, success often depends upon our ability to control a number of simple variables. We can buy the most freshly roasted beans we can get our hands on. We can precisely calibrate our grind to match our preferred brewing method (press, drip, etc.). And we can make sure our water temperature remains within the optimal brewing range. Of course, there are a multitude of other variables, too. But if we get these basics right, the rewards can make our whole day better.

A similar multitude of variables goes into the ultimate price of our perfect cup. The difference here, however, is that we have nearly no control over any of these variables. Worse, many of them are often highly changeable and unpredictable, which can lead to considerable volatility in world prices. As a result, it can be easy for many folks in the coffee trade, from producers to roasters to retailers, to feel at times that they are at the mercy of the markets – especially lately.

So what are some of the major drivers of this volatility?

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