News & Insights

The Coffee Conundrum


Earlier this year, The Atlantic Monthly wrote about the conundrum coffee farmers face in growing organic coffee and fending off the rampant rust disease that has afflicted the coffee crops of Latin American farmers. If left unaddressed, Coffee Leaf Rust, which is caused by a fungus, is predicted to cause crop losses of $500M and cost over 300,000 jobs in Central America.

Given the demand for organic coffee in the U.S. and elsewhere, Steve Savage, a researcher from Colorado State University, posed the question: “Could it be that well-intentioned but uninformed consumers, in pushing for organic coffee, are supporting an option that is less beneficial from an environmental and social justice perspective?” He says that the most effective treatment is to use synthetic fungicides; however, under strict organic guidelines, farmers are not allowed to, which forces them to make a decision between maintaining organic standards but risk losing their crops and income or using conventional treatment methods and risk losing the premium pricing that they’d get on organic coffee. There’s also the option of replacing existing coffee crops with varieties that are more rust resistant, but replanting is a 3-5 year process that would necessitate longer loan terms, and depends upon availability of these rust-resistant varieties. Many reports say that the problem could get worse next year, threatening global coffee exports.

We hear about this issue a lot in talking to our partners who work with coffee farmers. There’s no easy answer but we believe giving farmers access to technical assistance and information along with affordable capital can help mitigate the disease’s impact on their crops and hopefully, help keep their farms thriving. Giving farmers the information and knowledge to make their own decisions on how to address the coffee rust issue may be the best approach.

Learn More:

  1. Get more information about GP’s work with cooperatives.
  2. Read about roya, the fungus that causes the coffee rust disease and its impact on farmers in Central America.
  3. Wired Magazine wrote a June 2013 article about the threat to “good coffee” and to the livelihoods of the farmers that produce it. 
  4. Learn more about what global development leaders (including representatives from the U.N. World Food Program, Biovision, and Sustainable Food Trust) have to say about addressing the need for sustainable agriculture during the second annual Partnering for Global Impact conference taking place from July 10-11, 2013 in Switzerland. Join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #PGI2013 or follow @PGImpact.

Blog Tags: Central America   coffee   cooperatives   farmers   sustainable agriculture   

Photo of coffee farmer in Peru who is a member of Crediflorida, a Global Partnerships’ partner.
A coffee farmer picks coffee cherries from his trees in Peru. As a member of Crediflorida, a cooperative in Peru and GP partner, he receives both access to capital and technical assistance to ensure he is able to build a sustainable business for himself and his family. © 2013 Global Partnerships

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