The fungus, aptly named coffee rust, has already caused more than $1 billion in damage for Latin American crops, the Associated Press reports.
Especially dangerous to the high-end Arabica bean, the airborne fungal spores make the coffee rust highly contagious.
So far, major U.S. coffee companies, such as Starbucks and Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., have found enough supply elsewhere to avoid passing on price increases to consumers. But specialty coffee experts say if the problem isn’t fixed soon, consumers should expect to pay “extraordinarily high prices for those coffees” or receive a lower quality product.
To better ensure the quality of consumers’ java, and the jobs of local coffee farmers, the U.S. Government and major coffee companies are lending a hand.
Craig Russell, Starbucks Global Coffee executive vice president, tells the AP that the company is supporting farmer’s ability to access information, technology and resources to help them avoid the fungus contamination.
On Monday, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced a $5 million partnership with Texas A&M University’s World Coffee Research center to try to eradicate the fungus. The effort is part of the Feed the Future program, which aims to rid the world of extreme poverty through agricultural development and improved nutrition.
Officials with the agency say the chief concern is the economic security of small coffee farms. Production at the farms could be down 15% to 40% in future years, meaning the possible loss of at least 500,000 jobs. The fear is that if farmers lose their jobs there would be an increase in hunger and poverty which could contribute to violence and drug trafficking.
The new partnership will aim to develop rust-resistant coffee varieties and to help farmers monitor and respond to the fungus.
Coffee Fungus Raising Prices for High-End Blends [The Associated Press]