Farmers can use chemicals to kill the fungus, though they risk losing their organic certification if they do.
Humid conditions and erratic weather for the past two years in Chiapas, Mexico, have allowed the fungus spores to spread much faster than in the past, according to Ruben Bernabe of the Chiapas Federation of Ecologic Indigenous Coffee Producers. The fungus is expected to reduce the crop — both organic and non-organic — by 23 percent this year from 2013, according to local government data.
In Guatemala, the fungus used to only be a threat to coffee plants grown below 3,000 feet. Now the fungus is hitting crops as high as 6,000 feet.
In Colombia, leaf rust devastated crops from 2009 to 2012, which sent prices for the beans to a 14-year high in 2011.
The disease, first found in Latin America in the 1970s, is caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, which disrupts photosynthesis and prevents beans from reaching full maturity.
According to Steve Savage, a plant pathology consultant in Encinitas, Calif., farmers can kill the fungus by using a copper-based fungicide. However, the fungicide can wash off the plants in wet weather, requiring the workers to apply it every few days. This increases the amount that runs off into streams, which can endanger wildlife, and potentially poison soil.
In 2012, researchers at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and scientists in Ethiopia warned that wild Arabica coffee could be extinct in 70 years due to rising temperatures as a result of climate change.
According to a report last year from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming is “unequivocal” and each of the last three decades has been warmer at the Earth’s surface than any previous decade since 1850.
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