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The Economist
Jul 26th 2014 | CHINCHINÁ | From the print edition
Timekeeper

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How Colombia fought the fungus

WHEN Jesús María Aguirre saw his coffee bushes wither away, he knew that he had lost the sole source of income for his family. “We would go to collect coffee and would come back with our baskets nearly empty,” says the Colombian grower, recalling the pernicious effects of the “coffee rust” fungus, or roya.

The fungus stunts the growth of the fruit of arabica coffee plants. It infected about 40% of Colombia’s crop between 2008 and 2012. Production plunged from a high of 12.6m 60kg bags a year in 2007 to just 7.7m bags in 2012. As supply from Colombia shrank, international buyers turned to growers elsewhere.

What Mr Aguirre went through then is now the lot of farmers throughout Central America, the Dominican Republic, southern Mexico and Jamaica. Production there fell by 30% between 2011 and 2013 because of roya, reckons the International Coffee Organisation. USAID thinks it has caused $1 billion of economic damage in Latin America since 2012. This time Colombians are the ones taking advantage.

On his farm on the slopes of the country’s central mountain range, Mr Aguirre today presides over 1.5 hectares (4 acres) of healthy bushes plump with red berries. For yields to recover, he had to yank up fungus-prone bushes and plant a new variety that promised to fight off the blight. He was one of thousands of farmers who joined in a countrywide scheme run by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, which represents more than 500,000 independent growers. By June 2014 more than 3 billion bushes had been replanted.

Three-quarters of them were replaced with a roya-resistant variety known as Castillo, which had been developed in the labs of Cenicafé, the coffee federation’s research arm, after 13 years of selective breeding. Lindsey Bolger, head coffee buyer for Keurig Green Mountain, a roaster in the United States, said the industry was “on pins and needles” about whether the Castillo would work. It has. Colombia produced 11.5m bags in the 12 months to June 2014, up by 31% on the previous 12-month period, according to the coffee federation. Buyers are coming back.

Fernando Gast, Cenicafé’s director, says seeds of the Castillo coffee plants have been sent to Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica for evaluation. But he warns that Colombia’s success story is not directly transferable to Central America. The Castillo variety was created for Colombia’s needs and may not adapt to Central America’s soil and climate, he says.

Cenicafé’s 89 researchers cannot rest easy, either. They are working on a project to map the coffee genome. That should help them develop new varieties that will not only resist roya, which is continuously evolving, but will also be less susceptible to erratic weather. The search for a stronger brew is never over.

From the print edition: The Americas

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http://www.money-marketuk.com/Consumer/3743-when-your-cup-of-coffee-meets-climate-change.html

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What can we, as coffee drinkers, do? The answer, of course, is to support brands that provide the best coffee

Created on Saturday, 31 May 2014 18:38 Written by Malcolm Burgess

Malcolm Burgess explores the mighty David and Goliath challenge that the world’s ethical consumers recently took on.
Wake up and smell the coffee. It’s what two billion of us enjoy doing every single day. But the bad news is that this could become a thing of the past.
Whether we enjoy a half-caf soy almond latte or something even more exotic, the world’s future supply of quality coffee is at risk. A combination of extreme weather, rising temperatures and pests as a result of climate change means that prime coffee growing areas are seeing production plummet.
‘Climate change is the biggest threat to the industry, if we don’t prepare ourselves for a big disaster,’ says Mauricio Galindo, head of operations at the intergovernmental International Coffee Organisation.
It’s already led Starbucks to visit the White House to warn that the world’s coffee supply is under threat without a strategy in place.
But while western coffee drinkers may be affected by rising prices and poorer quality, the impact on coffee producers has already been catastrophic. Over 25 million rural households across the globe which depend on coffee growing are at risk.
Nowhere has been worse hit than the two million small coffee farmers in Central America where this winter’s harvest was 50% down on normal, for the second year running.
Trees can be saved by pruning and being treated with chemicals but this costs money and means normal production will be interrupted, together with the problem of toxicity to humans.
Nicaragua is one of the countries in the world most affected by climate change, according to the 2013 Global Climate Change Risk Index. It is also one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. The Nicaraguan government estimates that by 2050, 80% of its current coffee growing areas will have disappeared.
Rosibel and Benjamin Fijardo, with two young children, work in Jinotega, in the country’s central highlands, and falling production has turned them to scavenging.
‘If we don’t pick dropped coffee beans, we don’t eat, and nor do our children,’ says Rosibel. ‘There are lots of people and just not enough work here.’
They have no money for fruit or meat and instead, ironically, drink coffee.
Rising temperatures have also seen the appearance of the berry borer beetle in Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, causing $500 million of damage a year in Africa. This year’s drought in Brazil led to a doubling of coffee prices, with major concerns that climate change will cause a big decrease from the world’s biggest coffee producer.
It isn’t just the weather that has led to the current crisis. While Fairtrade has made inroads, the majority of producers still only receive a fraction of the price of a cup of coffee and the situation has worsened.
‘Commodities analysts confirm that, in a global market awash with speculators’ cash as a result of the quantitative easing policies of governments trying to end the recession, the price of coffee beans bears little relationship to supplies,’ says food writer Alex Renton.
What can we, as coffee drinkers, do? The answer, of course, is to support brands that provide the best coffee and pay their producer a fair price. And to appreciate that climate change affects us all. Starbucks isn’t knocking on President Obama’s door for nothing.

COFFEE IN HISTORY
Since the Middle Ages, and its origins in the luxury coffee houses of the Middle East, this mysterious, complex, stimulating beverage has provoked love and fear. Considered by some to be a cure-all, coffee has always aroused scientific interest. Experts agree that consumption of 4- 5 cups per day is healthy.

Coffee facts:
• Coffee is one of the most consumed drinks after water.
• Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world after oil.
• Over 1400 million cups of coffee are drunk around the world each day.
• The majority of coffee is consumed at breakfast.
• Take your coffee black with no sugar? Then your coffee is practically calorie-free with just 2-5 kcal per cup. (from Nestle)
• The two main coffee species grown commercially are Arabica andRobusta.
• A coffee plant can live for between 60 and 70 years.
• It can take up to four years for a coffee tree to reach maturity and bare fruit
• The English word coffee originates from the Arabic word ‘kaweh’ meaning strength or vigour
High temperatures have led to an epidemic of leaf or coffee rust fungus – a hazard of growing 70% of the world’s total production of Arabica. Grown on hillsides at higher altitudes, there was no problem until recently as the fungus dies at temperatures under 10 degrees C.
Malcolm Burgess

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Zygogramma bicolorata, a Parthenium biocontrol agent in Ethiopia

See video, Taking aim at a bitter weed:    http://youtu.be/Ty4r4HPM08s

Venues:
Addis Ababa – first 2 days
July 13 – July 15, 8:30 am to 12:00 pm
Nexus Hotel
http://www.nexusaddis.com/

Adama – second 2 days
July 15 – July 17, 8:30 am to 12:00 pm
Kereyu Hill Resort Hotel
http://kereyuhillresorthotel.com/

Objective:
The purpose of this four-day workshop is to review the current status of parthenium in the world and discuss management practices that can be used to abate its adverse impacts. The workshop will bring together scientists working on parthenium from Africa and other parts of the world to share information on the biology and management of this weed. The workshop is designed to facilitate collaboration among researchers both within Ethiopia and internationally.

Background:
The devastating invasive weed parthenium (Parthenium hysterophorus) is making an unwelcome advance in countries around the world from its birthplace in Central America. The scourge, known in Oromiffa, one of Ethiopia’s languages, as “faramsissa,” or “sign your land away,” has now spread to Africa, Asia, and Australia. In Africa, its reach extends from Ethiopia in the north to South Africa in the south. Wherever it goes, it reduces crop yield, adversely affects livestock production by taking over pastures and affecting the taste of cow’s milk, damages human health, and impinges on biodiversity. The Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab—a program funded by USAID and managed by Virginia Tech—has a project in Ethiopia led by Virginia State University that has been developing control practices to abate these adverse impacts. This project has evaluated the host range of two bioagents that control the weed, conducted a detailed survey of parthenium in eastern and southern Africa, and trained several individuals on biological control. Workshop participants will visit a bioagent rearing site, witness the release of bioagents that control parthenium, Zygogramma and Listronotus, and visit farms affected by this weed.

Workshop sponsors: USAID, IPM Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, IAPPS, EIAR, ARC-LNR, Alemaya University.

 

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