With the harvest season in Central America just weeks away from starting, I made a recent trip to Nicaragua—visiting Jinotega, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, and Madriz—to see how the forecasts are looking for some of our partner producing organizations.
Coffee Leaf Rust (also known as Roya) has been one of my primary concerns in the last few years, ever since the disease hit the region hard in late 2012 / early 2013. As Sustainable Harvest®’s Supply Manager for Central America and Mexico, I’ve monitored the destruction closely. Roya decimated production for the area: El Salvador was the hardest-hit country, but Nicaragua had losses of up to $60 million in 2012-13 from Roya, which affected 37% of its crop.
While the Roya crisis devastated many farmers’ livelihoods, those that had the means renovated their farms and replaced their diseased trees, while others cut their trees down to stumps and waited for new, Roya-free growth. In last year’s harvest (2014-15), we saw the initial positive results of this revitalization, with improved quality and yields.
On my recent visit I saw this trend continue even further: Quality is once again high, and yields will be even greater this harvest. Those who stumped their trees have already seen them return to peak production and will continue to see high yields in the next harvest, while the renovated trees will be yielding their peak production this harvest and the next.
The Roya crisis was a terrible event for Central America and Mexico. If there is a silver lining, it’s that producers—at least those in the 10 organizations we work with—learned from the outbreak and have a renewed energy toward caring for their plants. On my visit I saw producer organizations like Coomprocom, Soppexcca, and Reyna del Cafe demonstrate a renewed focus on pruning and renovation. These groups and others also now possess an increased awareness of Roya and other plant diseases, as they are monitoring their trees closer than ever for the slightest hint of trouble.
I’m very optimistic for the future of Nicaraguan coffee, and I can’t wait to see what the upcoming harvest produces.