Farmers from the beautiful islands of Hawaii, responsible for producing the famous Kona coffee, were shocked in 2020 to discover Coffee Leaf Rust on some islands. Since then, despite efforts to control it, the disease has spread.
“We were in the process of preparing for CLR [coffee leaf rust], but it wasn’t the top priority, Now it is”, said Christopher Manfredi, Director of the Hawaii Coffee Association (HCA).
A coordinated effort is now underway to attempt to bring it under control with the help of $150,000 from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research’s (FFAR), who allocated the money to help the Hawaiian industry, which generates $113m of value annually from the coffee industry.
The funding level, while welcome, seemed to me to be an asymmetric response to the size of the threat. Fortunately, the funding got matched by local growers associations, the Maui Coffee Association, and the Hawaii Coffee Growers Association. In addition, the U.S. recently announced a $6m fund for researching Coffee Leaf Rust.
The $113m calculation, in fact, doesn’t fully represent all the costs when you consider the second-order impacts, including the loss of value-added services. After taking into account these associated activities, an amount of $231m was used to illustrate a more realistic “downstream economic impact”.
The programme is headed up by the Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council (SHAC), who expands on this thought.
Numbers don’t do a good job of talking about the deep, 200-year heritage of coffee in Hawaii. The potential losses of income to growers are severe, but it also jeopardizes an entire community built around coffee. The Kona region of Hawaii is a mecca for visitors doing farm tours, local shops selling coffee and all the ancillary jobs and attractions that stem from the lure of the coffee bean.Said Suzanne Shriner, director of The programme is headed up by the Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council (SHAC), who expands on this thought. (SHAC)
Shriner’s research is a beneficiary of the U.S. $6m funding, specifically mentioning Hawaii when the programme was launched.
Our growers are desperate for a solution to CLR, says Shriner. “The FFAR grant allowed the researchers and extension to quickly deploy answers to the most basic questions of this disease. As our learning curve grows, it’s built on the base of the joint funding of FFAR and our community partners who matched the funds.”
An HCA white paper concluded that Hawaii’s commercially grown coffee varieties aren’t resistant to rust, unlike other coffee-growing regions. In addition, no fungicide effective in combating the disease was approved for use on coffee in the Islands.
Farmer subsidies are being proposed by the HCA to help them purchase fungicides that are effective against CLR. The costs associated with doing that, could be as much as $10m per annum and would be disproportionately expensive for small growers, who don’t have access to better equipment. It might be bad enough to push them out of the market ultimately, and the subsidy programme should consider this.
However, a better longer-term plan might be to migrate to resistant strains, but this will take time and have associated costs ranging from an estimated $68.5m for grafting on existing trees, to $95.6m for replanting.
As a medium-term strategy, this can be achieved gradually, but there is still the need to address the immediate issue by cutting the bureaucracy of fungicide approval, training on best practices, and support for the smaller farmers with the costs of protecting against this devastating disease.