ICO flags ‘serious implications’ of coffee disease

The International Coffee Organization nudged higher its estimate for world coffee output even as it cautioned over the potential for heavy losses, and “serious long-term implications”, caused by disease in Central America.

The intergovernmental group said that was “currently” estimating world coffee output in 2012-13 at 144.5m bags, up from an estimate of 144.06m tonnes last month, and representing a rise of 7.3% year on year.

And it identified a head start for 2013-14, in saying that “plentiful showers” in Brazilian coffee-growing regions last month “bode well” for the next harvest, which officials at the Conab crop bureau have pegged at 47m-50.2m bags,

That would be a record for what is an “off” year in Brazil’s cycle of higher and lower producing years, although the peaks and troughs in the top coffee-producing nation “seem to be converging”, said the ICO, with the downturn in 2013-14 seen at 4.4%.

The off year decade ago saw coffee output slump by 47%, with change in dynamics since then attributed largely to improved husbandry, in areas including pruning, irrigation and fertilizers.

Damage list

However, this upbeat picture contrasted with the difficulties facing growers in Central America, where coffee leaf rust, caused by the roya fungus, which can cause severe defoliation and yield losses, had “now been reported in all major coffee-producing countries”.

“Authorities in Costa Rica have declared a state of emergency in order to tackle the spread of the fungus,” the ICO said.

“In Guatemala and El Salvador, there are reports that rust could have affected 40‐50% of all coffee plants… while Honduras has declared a phytosanitary emergency,” and outbreaks have been reported in Mexico too.

“This outbreak could have serious long‐term implications for the production of washed arabicas in Central America, with the region potentially loosing around 2.5m-3m bags of coffee,” the organisation said.

“However, it is too early to provide an exact breakdown.”

Loss estimates

Central America, including Mexico, was responsible for 24% of arabica output in 2011-12, and had been expected to produce 22% of the world crop in 2012-13.

Roya fungus is known for its virulence – an outbreak in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, in 1869 prompted the country to switch from growing coffee to planting tea – although resistant strains are now being developed, and planted in Colombia, although at the price of taking  

Last week, the Organization of Central American Coffee Exporters, Orceca, forecast that coffee leaf rust will cut the Central American coffee harvest by some 20%.

Orceca estimated losses in Nicaragua at 600,000 quintals, equivalent to about 460,000 60 kilogramme bags.

For Guatemala, losses were pegged at 650 thousand quintals (about 500,000 bags), for El Salvador 400,000 quintals (307,000 bags) and Honduras 1.8m quintals (1.38m bags).

For Costa Rica, losses were estimated at 200,000 quintals (153,000 bags) and Panama 60,000 quintals (46,000 bags).

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