From developing varieties resistant to the fungus to an ambitious renovation plan, the brunt of the disease has been slowed in recent months in the country. In Central America rust affects about 35% of crops while in Colombia infection is limited to 5%.
While coffee growing countries of Central America, Peru, Mexico and the Dominican Republic are biting their nails to the aggressive onslaught of rust in their crops, Colombia stands out in the region as a country better prepared for the threat as it has left behind the worst periods of the plague.
Just browse or dive into the many newspaper articles on the subject to realize the gravity of the case in Central America.
Even the International Regional Organization for Animal and plant Health (OIRSA) declared the attack of the fungus as an epidemic and several countries have declared a health emergency to fight it.
The plague was accentuated in the region since last year and has alerted coffee southeastern states of Mexico, like Chiapas and Veracruz, as well as producers, exporters and authorities of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
El Salvador and Nicaragua are among the countries most affected by rust plague that afflicts at least 35% of the crops in Central America, with consequent losses to the producers by the fall in production.
Honduras, with an impact of 25% of their coffee park –somewhat aged and lacking renewal-, has gone a little better spared from this onslaught because it has its own varieties resistant to rust, but even from there they see Colombia as a role model.
By geographical proximity, one would think that the risk of contagion spreading to Colombia is high, but not necessarily so. Leading the way in research and development of coffee varieties resistant to rust and other diseases, Colombia is ready to face this new threat.
With decades of experience in the field, Colombia has introduced, developed and delivered to producers coffee varieties that maintain and improve many of the main qualities of their predecessors, plus it has pursued an ambitious renovation plan that has slowed coffee the onslaught of the plague in recent months.
As a result of the crossing of the Caturra variety with the Timor Hybrid, the Castillo® variety inherits the main qualities of both parents. Caturra variety: low stature that allows high seed densities and therefore high production. And the Timor Hybrid: high resistance to coffee rust and coffee cherries disease.
Thus, the resulting variety Castillo® after a breeding process that lasted several generations of trees shows high resistance to rust and other diseases, low stature for high densities, larger bean sizes with fewer defects, high productivity and quality in the cup, among other attributes.
The Castillo® variety was officially launched to producers by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) in May 2005, and today is the most used in the country, along with the formerly known as Colombia variety- for excellent agronomic performance, productivity and quality. Castillo and Colombia are also flag varieties of the Federation and the Government for the program “Colombia without rust” and for the renewal and recovery of productivity in the coffee sector.
True, the low international coffee prices and the appreciation of the Colombian peso, added to the diminished production by climate change, have combined to affect producer incomes in this difficult juncture.
But it should be noted that in the control of pests such as rust and other diseases using resistant varieties, Colombia is in a privileged position with respect to neighboring countries.
According to statistics by the FNC Extension Service (technical arm), coffee leaf rust today affects a mere 5% of the coffee crops, which contrasts significantly with the levels of infection in Central America.
And while rust in 2010, exacerbated by climate variability, came to affect 33% of the coffee plantations in Colombia, in February 2011 the rate had fallen to 17% and by November of that year to 10%, a marked improvement that shows the progress of Colombian coffee growing to control this fungus.
It added the FNC continuing efforts by increasing the welfare of the producers, so that they receive the best possible price for their harvest depending on the international price.
Moreover, for every peso that Colombian producer brings to the National Coffee Fund, the Federation gets nearly seven times more resources from the hands of international contributors for social and productive investment in the sector, a clear indicator of the added value of the Federation as an institution.