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Honduras’ remarkable rust recovery

From the February 2017 issue.

Honduras, which since 2011 has been Central America’s biggest grower and exporter, has not only made a full recovery from leaf rust, but is set to harvest a record crop in the 2016-17 cycle.

Omar Rodriguez

Central America’s largest coffee producing nation is getting bigger. After five years of relentless weather problems resulting in smaller than expected crops across the world of coffee, from drought in Brazil and East Africa to excessive rains and failed flowerings in Vietnam and Indonesia, the developments in Honduras are welcome news to the market.

From local exporters and growers, to the official Honduran Coffee Institute, Ihcafe, and the US Department for Agriculture (USDA), everybody agrees production is at record levels. The only question is by how much, with figures quoted in a range from 5.5 million to 6.5 million 60-kilogram bags, according to industry officials.

“We had a very good flowering for this crop and, apart from that, the growers have done a very good job in getting production back on track from the rust epidemic from which Honduras is now fully recovered,” Mario Ordonez, Technical Manager for Ihcafe, tells Global Coffee Report.

At the time of the rust outbreak, which started to appear in farms in Guatemala and El Salvador in July of 2012 and would go on to become the worst outbreak to hit Central America in history, the coffee industry in Honduras was already way ahead of the game.

Thanks to a government-subsidised program launched in 2008, a vast area of ageing farms had already been fully or partially re-planted with new and more disease-resistant varieties at the time the pest hit the region. The fact that most farms had some level of new plantings which were not only resistant to the rust pest, but also younger and better cared for, provided Honduras with the best possible defence against rust.

“In Honduras the rust outbreak hit between 20 and 25 per cent of the planted area in farms in the worst cases, and in the new farms planted by private investors there was as little as 10 to 15 per cent damage. It was only in the organic farms that more severe incidents of rust damage were recorded, and even there we did not hear of many cases with over 30 per cent of the area hit,” Ordonez says.

Such figures may sound alarming to some in the industry, but they show the importance of good agricultural practices such as regular renovation and replanting with new varieties and basic husbandry. To compare, rust devastated between 50 and 70 per cent of plantations in Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru, the countries most severely hit.

With pro-active leadership the Honduran coffee industry has shown that when it comes to addressing the challenges of the country’s more than 111,000 small holder growers, it is a role model for other coffee producing countries.

Across most of the world’s coffee nations, the industry remains dominated by tiny producers who have an average of one hectare of land or less per household unit.

And this leadership is now at the root of efforts that has put Honduras on track for a record harvest just five years after the rust pest first hit the region.

“Our target is for Honduras to be able to export at least 6.133 million bags in the 2016-17 crop cycle, which is exactly the target we had in the harvest that coincided with the outbreak of rust in Central America,” said Dagoberto Suazo, Deputy Manager of Ihcafe, in a recent interview with local press in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.

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