According to Cenicafé, there are nine new variants of coffee rust in Colombia which are likely to be the most aggressive we have ever known.
For those who are not aware, coffee rust is a fungus native to Africa that is present in most coffee-producing countries. The fungus, called Hemileia vastatrix, hit especially the Arabica varieties which are more disease susceptible as they love higher altitude than the robusta ones (the fungus ideal conditions to spread is where humidity is).
The coffee rust can ruin up to 80% of a farmer’s crop if the Roja isn’t tackling promptly and history can confirm that on several occasion in different countries in the past such as Sri Lanka, Africa, Asia, Indonesia, Central and South America.
In this article, I’ll mainly focus on the new variants and what can be done by the farmers to reduce their losses.
NEW RACES AND VARIANTS OF COFFEE RUST
Recently, Cenicafé warned Colombia saying there are six new races of coffee rust within the country and nine variants of the fungus (H. vastatrix) with greater genetic complexity and different degrees of virulence and aggressiveness.
The coffee institutions are suggesting producers switch their crops into more resistant plants as a primary defence against the coffee rust as said by Roberto Vélez Vallejo, General Manager of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC) in this statement: “I call on coffee growers to establish or renew their crops with resistant varieties such as Castillo®, Cenicafé 1, Castillo zonales and Tabi, with material obtained from certified seed, either in coffee warehouses, cooperatives or by through the FNC Extension Service”.
On the same page, Hernando Duque Orrego, Technical Manager of the FNC, stated: “The main recommended management strategy, which is the most economical, sustainable and efficient, is the sowing of resistant varieties, such as Colombia, Castillo, Cenicafé 1, Castillo zonal and Tabi, developed by the FNC – Cenicafé. Otherwise, the most likely recommendation would be chemical control, applying fungicides on susceptible varieties”.
The warning by the Cenicafé suggests quickly replace all the susceptible plant with more resistant ones. The Colombian country is an ideal place for the spread of coffee rust due to its multiple different microclimates, altitudes and humidity. Right now, susceptible varieties in Colombia account for 16% of its crop. The spread of coffee rust in susceptible plants is, on average, 20% or more while it is up to 6% in the resistant ones.
Acting as fast as possible is quite crucial as the fungus, like every microorganism, will try to survive by mutating and changing. The identification of new races and variant is in the process: right now in the World, 50 races have been identified as well as new variants are being discovered (coffee rust has recently been discovered for the first time in Hawaii).
However, “the Hemileia vastatrix fungus that causes rust, like any other living microorganism in adverse and diverse environments, can change and mutate in both susceptible and resistant varieties of coffee, its only host. This selection and reaction pressure is a normal dynamic biological process of the fungus, trying to adapt to survive. Hence, little more than 50 races have been identified in the world and variants continue to be identified in different countries ”, stated Carlos Ariel Ángel, a researcher at Cenicafé’s Phytopathology Discipline.
What is Cenicafé and why it’s so important?
Cenicafé often called the scientific arm of the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC), it’s the biggest research centre for coffee agronomy. Since when it was founded in 1938 in Chinchiná, Caldas, it has been focusing on the cultivation of Colombian farmers. The centre plays a huge role in fighting against disease by generating knowledge and creating new technologies through experiments and scientific researches: the most acclaimed success is to have been developed coffee varieties that can contrast the coffee rust, protecting the crops of Colombian farmers. Firstly, in 1980 they released their first hybrid of Caturra and the Timor Hybrid. They then released Castillo in 2005 and lastly, in 2016, Cenicafe 1.
Cenicafe 1 is a rust-resistant hybrid variety that also increased its resistance against other diseases. This last hybrid came out with the idea to make it harder for the coffee rust to “penetrate” the trees; to achieved Cenicafe 1, different genes are being mixed to tackle the Roja, other pests and diseases such as the Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) and the climate change.
The institutions have high hopes on this latest variety thinking it will wipe out any worries about diseases and pests but also low yields and low cupping score.
Cenicafé also focuses on good practices for soil conservation, monitoring of climate change variables, controlling pests and parasites, reforestation, reducing water consumption and so cutting production costs to guarantee sustainability for the production of coffee in Colombia.
Farmers are trying to renovate their crops as quickly as possible to combat again the coffee rust and any other diseases. But it’s not only by planting the most resistant varieties on earth that a farmer would succeed: the key thing is to keep the right management practices, reducing the harmful role of pesticides, working on natural fertility to prevent soil erosions.
It’s, simply put, creating an ecosystem that requires less human input.
That’s all for today. Hope you enjoyed the article.
Have a look at the basics section of the website if you want to know more about climate change, the use of pesticides, coffee rust, soil preservation, climate change and much more.
I am an Italian coffee lover that pushed for the love of this “amazing drug” decided to come to London to study about coffee and its different extraction procedures and tastes.