Coffee leaf rust, better known as La Roya, has always been an issue in the coffee industry to some degree. La Roya is a fungus that attacks the leaves of the coffee tree. When the fungus attacks the plant, the leaves lose their effectiveness, they lose cherries and the farmers lose up to 80% of their crop.
Currently, La Roya is an issue that is decimating the crops of small producers. Historically, Roya has affected lower quality, low elevation coffees. These coffees are known as commodity coffee. Coffees that are Specialty grade (80+ point coffees) are grown at higher elevations in lower temperatures which provides a difficult environment for the fungus to thrive. This has kept the Roya at lower elevations, out of specialty coffee and coincidentally out of the limelight of the press.
The increasing temperatures in equatorial countries due to climate change have brought Roya to regions and farms that had been previously unaffected by the fungus. Our producing partners in Central and South America have been heavily affected by Roya during the past few seasons, and there is no end in sight for these small-holder farms.
An article by PRI was published yesterday on La Roya and what is being done to combat the effects of this agricultural epidemic. Through a collaboration with Root Capital (a developing world agricultural investment firm) and the 22 roaster members of Cooperative Coffees (including DOMA Coffee Roasting Co.), there has been headway to help combat Roya and help farmers provide food for their families. At Cooperative Coffees, we have agreed to pay an extra 5 cents per pound for the Central American coffee we are purchasing. These extra funds are being given to our producer partners to be used on re-planting, organic fertilizers, organic training programs, food security gardens and other projects to create more family income. The money is also being used to help treat the plants to combat Roya. Farmers are using Magnesium Sulfate, Copper Sulfate and Zinc Sulfate to treat their plants. These sprays are incredibly expensive for farmers. A recent proposal from APECAFORM, one of our producing partners in Guatemala, budgeted over $21,000 for sprays to combat Roya.
Cooperative Coffees and Root Capital are also bringing representatives from all of our producing partners who are experiencing issues with Roya together in early January. Coop Coffees will be hosting a summit and workshop event in Honduras for farmers to discuss and learn best organic practices from one another to combat rust. This will hopefully be an opportunity for farmers to come together in solidarity and discuss real solutions and action plans to safeguard their crop from the fungal epidemic.
Here at DOMA, we don’t view the projects and our participation with Cooperative Coffees as a charity or something that we should brag about. We care about our producing partners because we have been working with them for years and years. These are not just transactional relationships, these are not just the people that we buy our coffee from. These are people that we have built and fostered transformational, long-term relationships with. We care about our success, because when our producing partners are succeeding in creating high quality coffee, they get paid more, and we get to roast higher quality coffee.