The Plant Disease That’s Killing The World’s Coffee

Your daily run to Starbucks is going to be a lot different once this plant disease kills the entire coffee crop.

coffee plant disease
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Your daily run to Starbucks is going to be a lot different once this plant disease kills the entire coffee crop.

It’s called coffee leaf rust, or coffee rust, it’s untreatable, and it once completely changed the world’s coffee game. Now, the terrible disease is back and it is hitting Latin America hard.

“We are in the middle of the biggest coffee crisis of our time,” said Josue Morales, a producer and exporter in the coffee industry in Guatemala.

He’s right. Every day, more of the world’s coffee supply is destroyed by a rampaging, untreatable plant disease that’s got a reputation for demolishing entire coffee industries on a country-wide level.

Around 70 percent of coffee farms in Central America have been affected by coffee leaf rust, according to NPR, and things are not improving.

Over 1.7 million workers in the Central American coffee industry have already lost their jobs because farms are shrinking, and many are moving out of the region to find jobs elsewhere. The Central American coffee industry is on a serious decline, and the change could be permanent. This is not the first time something like this has happened.

In the 1860s, Sri Lanka was one of the biggest coffee producers in the entire world. That all changed when coffee leaf rust struck the country.

It all started with small yellow spots on just a few leaves. Soon, the disease decimated the coffee crop. By 1890, an astounding 90 percent of the lands used for coffee in Sri Lanka were abandoned. The coffee empire fell completely in the country, and a new page in history was written.

Coffee cup full of beans spilling out on table
  Jessica Lewis / Pexels

Latin America produces about seven-eighths of the Arabica coffee beans consumed worldwide. And since 2012, farms have decreased their coffee yield by 50 to 80 percent in the area due to coffee leaf rust. This bodes ill for the future of coffee as an industry and as a beverage.

Coffee rust has no cure and it is extremely aggressive, with spores that travel on wind and survive even without a host.

With around 70 percent of all coffee farms in Central America having been affected by the disease so far, the region has lost about $3.2 billion in damages and lost wages, reports the Daily Mail.

Rust-resistant varieties of coffee don’t work as a substitute, because this fungus adapts. Scientists don’t know how to stop it or cure it, and right now it’s tearing through the world’s coffee supply in Central America.

According to Time Out Sydney, the world’s coffee supply will be totally depleted by 2050 unless growers can figure out a brand-new way to grow the much-needed coffee beans that make the brew.

In other words, you better get it while it’s hot…because soon, coffee may become a rare luxury item for everyone.