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Guest post: Farmer resilience

This post was written by Emmy, DLG Community Engagement intern.

If I had to describe coffee growers here in Guatemala, they are diligent farmers that are determined when faced with challenges. Growing coffee is a big investment, as it takes several years before a coffee plant reaches maturity and produces fruit. From there, it requires careful nurturing to ensure a high quality product.

Coffee plant with roya

As a sensitive crop, coffee is vulnerable to weather and climate variations, which are becoming more frequent and intense with global climate change. One of the resulting problems that has swept Central America is the roya fungus, rust colored spots that appear on the coffee leaves and can destroy the plant. The fungus first appeared in Central America in the 1970s but has become more aggressive in the last few years. The fungus cannot survive below about 10°C or above 1,300 meters. Climate change means that higher altitudes are becoming warmer, and thus the disease is affecting more and more plants. As such, there’s been a global shortage of coffee. Coffee is Guatemala’s top export, so roya has been especially detrimental for Guatemalans.

Coffee field destroyed by roya

Last year’s roya estimates put Guatemala’s overall infection rate at 70 percent, and the government declared it a national emergency. Some of the communities that DLG works with lost 80 percent of their plants. For many families coffee is their only source of income. As a result, malnutrition and lack of income for school fees are major concerns. De la Gente is working with cooperatives to help communities recover from destroyed plants due to roya and take preventative measures to reduce future losses with peer-to-peer farmer training. With the support of individuals in the cooperatives and the staff at DLG, farmers are determined to remain optimistic and face roya head on. You can learn more about DLG’s Combat Roya Program and check out their short video to learn more and how you can contribute. One way to do so is from the advice of a British coffee importer, who reminds coffee drinkers that “people need to look for brands that support the producers”; and that’s exactly what De la Gente does.

Timoteo conducting a peer-to-peer farmer training

Renton, A. (2014, March 30). Latin America: How climate change will wipe out coffee crops – and farmers. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/30/latin-america-climate-change-coffee-crops-rust-fungus-threat-hemileaia-vastatrix

Stone, C. (2014, May 31). Fungus, climate change threatening big part of global coffee supply. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140531-coffee-rust-columbia-brazil-cost-problems/