Coffee Rust Concerns ‘Plaguing’ Columbia
Columbia has for years relied on coffee as its national product, one of the country’s biggest industries, but it’s also been blighted by coffee rust, a disease that has the potential to wipe this industry out.
According to the BBC, Columbia is the third biggest producer of coffee in the world so if coffee rust does take hold in the country it is likely to affect the price of the coffee drunk everywhere around the world.
To help tackle the problem, scientists in the country have been working out of a small mountain-based research laboratory called Cenicafe, set up by the National Federation of Coffee Growers (Fedecafe).
Back in the 60s, scientists decided to breed new varieties of coffee that would retain the renowned taste and aroma of Colombian Coffea Arabica and the resistance genes of robusta. The latter is a tougher tree that is cheaper to grow and crop, and which has more resistant leaves. Coffee rust, unfortunately, will only attack Arabica and not robusta – and Columbia will only export Arabica.
However, there appears to be an answer in a naturally occurring hybrid of robusta and Arabica found in the small island of Timor, between Indonesia and Australia. This can be bred with Arabica so as to pass on its own rust resistance.
Climate change is also a concern because some scientists believe that rising temperatures can reduce the time it takes for the rust to attack the leaves – so epidemics in the future may well be longer and more destructive.
Other varieties of coffee have also been developed by those at Cenicafe, such as Castillo, that are more resistance to diseases. Including other genes can help protect crops from various risks such as pests, climate and disease.
The news source observed: “Today, per Fedecafe’s figures, 76 per cent of all coffee trees in Colombia are at least partially resistant to coffee rust, an increase achieved mostly by pushing Castillo among growers. And while other countries have seen their crops halved in recent outbreaks, Colombia maintains a single-digit prevalence of the disease.”
Interestingly, climate change is also having an effect on farmers in Ethiopia, the biggest producer of coffee in Africa. Drier and more intense conditions are having an impact on the amount of coffee that can be produced – which has seen farmers trying new and innovative ways of tackling the problem. This includes planting fake banana trees so there’s more shade for coffee plants, moving to higher regions to take advantage of more favourable climates, mulching, irrigation and terracing.
This latter option can be helpful because it can improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion and water run-off – so is especially effective when used in conjunction with irrigation techniques.
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