Cue the Freakout: 'Coffee Rust' Hitting Hard

$1B in damages so far, as US gets in on fungus fight

By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff

Posted May 18, 2014 12:43 PM CDT

(Newser) – There is a fungus among us, and this little devil is threatening to mess with your morning joe: Dubbed "coffee rust," the fungus has wrought some $1 billion in damage to the Latin American coffee industry, and as the AP reports, could drag production down by 15% to 40%, cost a half-million jobs, and jack the price of your caffeine fix. So Uncle Sam, bless his soul, is stepping in tomorrow via a $5 million USAID partnership with Texas A&M's World Coffee Research center aimed squarely at eradicating the fungus. But Washington isn't exactly acting with your best interests at heart: The theory goes that if coffee farmers are hit hard by blight, poverty and hunger could spike in the region—leading to a spike in the drug trade.

And the coffee rust—which is especially deadly to arabica coffee, the bean in most higher-end coffees—doesn't look like it's going to magically go away. "We don't see an end in sight anytime soon," says a Texas A&M researcher. While most coffee companies have been able to thus far find enough supply, a rep for the Specialty Coffee Association of America says the worst case is one in which we pay "extraordinarily high prices for those coffees, if you can find them at all." Coffee companies themselves are getting in on the fight, notes the AP, and Starbucks has even bought a research farm in Costa Rica.

In this Feb. 9, 2013, file photo, small coffee producer Hector Perez show coffee beans damaged by the roya fungus in San Gaspar Vivar, Guatemala.   (Moises Castillo)
In this photo taken Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, a container of Panama Geisha coffee beans in Oakland, Calif.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
A fungus called coffee rust has wrought $1 billion in damage in Latin America.   (Photo: Business Wire)
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