These past three months we have all seen the reports of the devastation that Coffee Rust Disease (Roya in Spanish) has caused in coffee communities throughout Mexico and Central America. When Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras declared national states of emergency, it was clear that Roya was not just a passing problem. The questions we asked ourselves are the same that many in the coffee industry are asking--what is the extent of the damage? How will this affect quality and supply next year? How will these farmers ever recover? What can we do?
We spoke to our suppliers to get an understanding of the true scope of the problem and to see how we can help. The feedback we got was unnerving and overwhelming--most producer organizations feel they do not have the know-how and the necessary expertise to combat the fungus in an effective manner. There is a lot of confusion about what they should be doing, and most organizations simply feel inadequately equipped. We all agree that it is important to bring more clarity and definition to the problem, and to share lessons learned and best practices with a broader audience.
Thus the birth of the Roya Recovery Project, an industry-wide effort to bring education and awareness around the Roya outbreak, spearheaded by Sustainable Harvest®. We are collaborating with the specialty coffee community to create a platform to discuss, engage, and share important information and training materials to all of those affected.
First step: a fact-finding mission in the form of a trip to Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia where, along with my coworkers Clemente and Claudia, I met with researchers, cuppers, field extensionists, and lab technicians. We asked them what they know about the Roya, what they are doing in their personal field to combat it, and what variables producer organizations need to consider when they deal with the fungus. We investigated the role that shade, rainfall, and increasing temperatures have played in the proliferation of the fungus. We saw alternative organic treatments that farmers have developed to mitigate coffee leaf rust on their farms. We heard many sides on the debate about resistant varietals and cup quality. And we have gathered astonishing stories of farmers who found ways to protect their farm in very creative ways.
The whole trip was documented and will be turned into a training video to share with our supply chain and the coffee industry. The Roya Recovery Project also includes a platform for a community forum, a Let's Talk Roya event in Honduras to provide hands-on training to Central American farmers, and additional work to aggregate and disseminate the wonderful work that all the co-ops, agronomists, technicians, scientists, and NGOs are currently doing to combat Roya.