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WCR and the US Government commit US $5 million to fight coffee rust

World Coffee Research (WCR) and the US Government are spending US $5 million on a research project to assist smallholder farmers affected by coffee leaf rust in Central America, the Caribbean and Peru.

“By partnering with innovators from College Station (in Texas) to Colombia, we can promote broad-based economic growth for the world’s most vulnerable people,” said the United States Agency for International Development’s Administrator Rajiv Shah, in a WCR statement. “Fighting epidemics like coffee rust empower entrepreneurs and create sustainable livelihoods for families – helping entire communities become self-sufficient.”

Climatic and uncontrollable interactions caused the Central American coffee leaf rust crisis of 2012. It was further aggravated by the unpreparedness of the sector, WCR has reported.

Roughly half of the approximate one million hectares of coffee acreage have been significantly affected by coffee leaf rust, resulting in lower production and less farmer income, according to the report.
Estimates by Promcafe, the regional coffee organisation, reveal that overall coffee production is down by 20 per cent compared to 2011.

“Promcafe and WCR are confident [in turning things around] for the Central American coffee producer who has been hit hard with a double whammy of leaf rust and low prices,” said Dr. Tim Schilling, Executive Director of World Coffee Research. “Central America must shoot for the higher end of the market and this GDA will allow that to happen by providing high quality, rust resistant varieties tailored for specific eco-geographic zones.”

The project seeks primarily to rebuild livelihoods and food security for smallholder farmers whose income was ravaged by the rust epidemic.

Research will focus on establishing a higher quality Central American coffee sector in the future, through plantation renovation with disease resistant coffee varieties, and a constant pipeline of newer, higher performing varieties.


Although much of the work will be done in Central America, two coffee biotechnologists will work at the Texas A&M Institute for Biotechnology and Genomics under direction of Dr. Martin Dickman.
An innovative rust bio-control approach will also be executed with the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil and Kew Gardens in London.

The WCR says that current rust mitigation actions through fungicide spraying are essential to keep coffee production viable for 2014 and 2015. However, they do not provide the producer with a sustainable means of preventing future crises.

“This multi-stakeholder initiative creates essential linkages between industry, research institutions and NGOs to provide coffee farming families with more tools and greater capacity to confront a growing number of threats to their coffee and their livelihoods,” said Lindsey Bolger, WCR Chairperson and VP of Coffee Sourcing and Excellence at Keurig Green Mountain.

For more information see: worldcoffeeresearch.org

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