This post is also available in: Spanish
By Marijulia Pujol Lloyd
Panama´s coffee crops could be endangered due to fungi called Hemileia vastatrix, commonly referred to as “rust” which attacks leaves on the coffee bush. The disease results in fewer beans that produce inferior coffee. The Panamanian government is considering a declaration of a state of emergency, facing the 20,000 productive hectares in jeopardy.
According to the Minister of Agriculture Development, Oscar Osorio, 60% of the production has been lost. He clarified that the rust only attacks plantations that are below 1,100 meters elevation and urged that the private sector work together to confront the epidemic. He placed the blame on substandard agricultural practices.
Minister Osorio pointed out that a state of emergency has been declared in other Central American countries and the International Regional Organization for Plant and Animal Health (OIRSA), a technical organization established to provide administrative and technical support to the Ministries or Secretariats of Agriculture from its member countries, wants to extent a red alert for the coffee producing sector from Mexico to Colombia.
Panamanian coffee producers are asking the government for $10 million that will be used to replace the diseased plants and stop the spread of the rust.
Central American producers and some government agencies have long been sounding the alarm over diseases that can affect coffee plants. Guatemala was the third country that declared a state of emergency due to the massive affects of coffee rust disease. Prior to Guatemala, a state of emergency was declared by Honduras and Costa Rica. Coffee is the main export item for most countries in Central America.
Experts estimate crop losses at upwards of 20% in the region for the 2012-2013 harvest. Estimates for the next season are as bad as 40%.
About the disease
The disease was first reported in Kenya in 1861. By 1869 it had spread to Sri Lanka, and by the 1920’s it was widely found across much of Africa and Asia. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, coffee rust did serious damage to the coffee plantations of Sri Lanka, Philippines, Java and Malaya, which led to the collapse of the coffee industry in Lipa, Batangas. It nearly put an end to the Arabica variety.