Roya The Crisis

What is Roya?

Roya, or Hemileia vastatrix, is a fungus that causes significant damage to coffee plants. It strips them of their leaves, leaving them without nutrients, and ultimately inhibits them from bearing fruit.

How bad is the outbreak?

While Roya has always existed in manageable amounts, in 2013 it has gotten out of control. On Feb 8 the New York Times dubbed it one of “the worst roya outbreaks in memory” and they weren’t exaggerating– coffee producers are reporting a 30% – 70% of their crops. Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have declared states of emergency; their economies depend on the export of coffee they project a loss of over 500,000 coffee-related jobs.

What contributed to the spread?

Most experts conclude that a warmer-than-normal climate has created conditions that are more favorable for Roya’s rapid spread, even in high altitude regions that have been traditionally immune to the disease.  Heavy rainfall has allowed the disease to multiply and winds have carried spores to new areas, where they rapidly attack coffee plant leaves.

What does this mean for farmers?

Reduced coffee yield and quality due to the Roya epidemic will deliver a severe blow to the incomes and livelihoods of coffee farmers across Central America.  Marginalized producers and their families who rely on coffee for their main source of income may face increased risks of food insecurity and insolvency in the coming year.

What is the solution?

The unfortunate fact is there there is no easy fix. The solutions being discussed today are short-term, expensive, or involve compromises like losing organic certification or planting coffee varietals that yield lower-quality beans. But there are also many steps a farmer can take to recover long-term–what we need to do is make the information available to the farmers that need it most.  The Roya Recovery Project community and toolkit can help farmers understand the issues they face and the weigh the decisions they must make.