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Crisis Looms for Senior Citizens as 'Coffee Rust' Wipes Out Production of Their Favorite Drink

A survey of seniors years ago found most prefer coffee to sex, but this devotion to caffeine may get challenged by an expected jump in price due to wide-spread fungus attack blamed on growing methods

Feb. 12, 2013 - Senior citizens may show little concern when the price of gasoline goes through the roof, but there is a price jump on the way that will make their gray hair, if available, stand on end. There is a raging outbreak of “coffee rust,” a fungus, that is sweeping through plantations in Central America and Mexico and severely limiting production, which pushes prices higher.

A shift away from traditional coffee-growing techniques may be increasing the severity of the fungus outbreak, according to a University of Michigan ecologist, John Vandermeer who studies the disease.

Guatemala recently joined Honduras and Costa Rica in declaring national emergencies due to the disease. The current spread of coffee rust, according to Vandermeer is the worst seen in Central America and Mexico since the fungal disease arrived in the region more than 40 years ago.

 

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The Guatemalan president said the outbreak could cut coffee production by 40 percent in his country for the 2013-2014 growing season. Because Central America supplies 14 percent of the world's coffee, the outbreak could drive up the price of a cup of coffee.

Vandermeer has operated research plots at an organic coffee plantation in southern Chiapas, Mexico, for about 15 years. Vandermeer and colleague Ivette Perfecto of the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment study the complex web of interactions between resident organisms there, including various insects, fungi, birds and bats.

Vandermeer said more than 60 percent of the trees on his study plots now have at least 80 percent defoliation due to coffee rust, which attacks leaves and interferes with their ability to photosynthesize. Thirty percent of the trees have no leaves at all, and nearly 10 percent have died.

"I have personal reports from friends who work in coffee in Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico. They all say that it's the worst explosion of this disease they've ever seen," said Vandermeer, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and at SNRE.

Hemileia vastatrix is a fungus that causes coffee rust - More at Wikipedia.

“One of the most feared pathogens to coffee growers is Hemileia vastatrix, or the coffee rust fungus,” writes Shawn Steinman, CoffeeResearch.org. “In the years since, H. vastatrix has appeared in every coffee producing region except Hawaii.  This fungus is largely responsible for the modernization of coffee plantations in South America.”

Over the last 20 to 25 years, many Latin American coffee farmers have abandoned traditional shade-growing techniques, in which the plants are grown beneath a diverse canopy of trees. In an effort to increase production, much of the acreage has been converted to "sun coffee," which involves thinning or removing the canopy and a greater reliance on pesticides and fungicides to keep pests in check.

Vandermeer suspects that the shift to sun coffee may be contributing to the severity of the latest coffee rust outbreak. The move to sun coffee results in a gradual breakdown of the complex ecological web found on shade plantations. One element of that web is the white halo fungus, which attacks insects and also helps keep coffee rust fungus in check.

Both the widespread use of pesticides and fungicides and the low level of biodiversity found at sun-coffee plantations have likely contributed to the decline of white halo fungus in recent years, Vandermeer said. Without white halo fungus to restrain it, coffee rust, also known as roya, has been able to ravage coffee plantations from Colombia to Mexico, he said.

"What we feel has been happening is that gradually the integrity of this once-complicated ecosystem has been slowly breaking down, which is what happens when you try to grow coffee like corn," Vandermeer said.

"And this year it seems to have hit a tipping point, where the various things that are antagonistic to the roya in a complex ecosystem have declined to the point where the disease can escape from them and go crazy."

The big unanswered question is whether the current outbreak is a freak one-time event or the first look at a new normal for the region.

"It could be that this disease is just going to run itself out this year and will then return to previous levels," he said. "Or it could be that it now becomes a relatively permanent fixture in the region. The path this disease takes will have huge implications for the region's coffee producers."

Coffee rust is the most important disease of coffee worldwide. It was first discovered in the vicinity of Lake Victoria in East Africa in 1861 and was later identified and studied in Sri Lanka in 1867, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The disease soon spread to much of Southeast Asia and eventually throughout the southern, central and western coffee-growing regions of Africa.

Coffee rust was not known in the Western Hemisphere until 1970, when it was found in Bahia, Brazil. Since 1970, the disease has spread to every coffee-growing country in the world, according to the Coffee Research Institute.

The rust mainly infects coffee leaves, but also young fruit and buds. Coffee rust spores are spread by the wind and the rain from lesions on the underside of leaves.

>> John Vandermeer: www.lsa.umich.edu/eeb/directory/faculty/jvander


Links to More Archived Stories About Coffee

Does Coffee Deserve Credit for Boom in Senior Citizen Population?

Massive study declares coffee drinkers have lower risk of death; seniors have declared coffee more important that sex - see video - May 17, 2012


Coffee Antioxidant Properties May Protect Women Against Uterine Cancer

Drinking more than four cups of coffee daily cut risk by 25%; coffee fast-emerging as protective against a number of diseases- see video - Nov. 28, 2011


Coffee, Favorite Drink of Seniors, Provides Protection from Basal Cell Carcinoma

Women get almost twice as much protection as men among 3-cup a day drinkers - see video - Oct. 26, 2011


Older Women See Depressions Go Down as Coffee Drinking Goes Up

Depression is chronic and recurring condition affecting twice as many women as men; includes about 1 of every 5 U.S. women - Sept. 26, 2011


Coffee Drinking Fights Off Prostate and Breast Cancer: Happy Older Americans Month

Senior citizens say they will give up sex before coffee; must be delighted with latest news on how it protects both sexes from most prominent cancers

May 19, 2011


More Evidence that Coffee Protects from Diabetes; Caffeine Probably the Cause

Encouraging news for seniors who are major targets of diabetes and love coffee

June 8, 2010


New Study Says Caffeine Slows Alzheimer's, Other Dementias, Restores Cognitive Function

Positive impact of caffeine on cognition and memory performance, other benefits of caffeine in special supplement to the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease - (Amsterdam) May 17, 2010


Regular Coffee, Decaf and Tea All Associated With Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Info more than doubled since coffee first linked to reducing diabetes risk; unlikely just related to caffeine

Dec. 14, 2009


Favorite Drink of Senior Citizens, Coffee Appears to Fight Advanced Prostate Cancer

More good news for senior men is FDA consideration of prostate cancer vaccine, Provenge

Dec. 8, 2009


Caffeine Miraculously Restores Memory in Old Mice with Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Coffee, the favorite drink of senior citizens, sure to get more popular with discovery of the memory recovery power of five cups a day that reduces beta-amyloid protein in blood

July 6, 2009


Good News for Seniors: Coffee Kills Pain When You Exercise, May Help Performance, Too

But does that reduction in pain translate into an improvement in sport performance?

April 1, 2009


Older Women Lower Stroke Risk by Drinking Coffee Frequently and Not Smoking

It only works for healthy women but two cups a day does the trick; unfortunately, many heavy coffee drinkers tend to smoke

Feb. 17, 2009


Seniors Will Appreciate Study Finding Coffee Drinkers Less Likely to Get Alzheimer’s in Old Age

Drinking 3-5 cups per day shows best results – lowers Alzheimer’s risk by 65%

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Women Drinking Large Amounts of Coffee May Lower Their Risk of Death

Study finds coffee drinkers – caffeinated and decaf - with slightly lower death rates; men about even

June 17, 2008 - Video link in story


Chemists Say They Now Know How to Remove Bitterness from Coffee

Great news for senior citizens who already prefer coffee to sex

Aug. 22, 2007


Older Women Who Drink Three Cups of Coffee Daily Protect Memory

Caffeine appears to reduce cognitive decline, but not in men

Aug. 7, 2007


Drinking Coffee May Offer Senior Men Protection from Gout Arthritis

Something in coffee lowers uric acid levels in blood - May 25, 2007


Senior Citizens Drinking Lots of Caffeine Lower Risk of Heart Disease Death

No significant protective effect in patients below the age of 65 - Feb. 23, 2007


Senior Citizens Find Surprisingly ‘Good News’ in 30 Years of Coffee Research

'Many negative health myths about coffee drinking may now be transformed into validated health benefits' - Jan. 22, 2007


Most Adults Won’t Give Up Sex for Staying Young, Senior Citizens Won’t Give Up Coffee

April 20, 2004


Adding Sugar to Your Coffee Could Lead to Pancreatic Cancer

Adding sugar to food or drinks five times a day increases risk 70% - Nov. 8, 2006


Senior Coffee Addicts Who Choose Decaf to Avoid Caffeine May Be in for a Jolt

October 11, 2006


Coffee Drinking Associated with Lower Risk for Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

June 13, 2006


Even Excessive Coffee Drinking Does Not Increase Risk of Coronary Heart Disease

April 25, 2006


Is Coffee the Solution to Everything from Cancer to Female Sex Drive?

Jan. 18, 2006

More Coffee Benefits (Science Daily)

New Evidence That Drinking Coffee May Reduce the Risk of Diabetes (June 10, 2010) — Scientists are reporting new evidence that drinking coffee may help prevent diabetes and that caffeine may be the ingredient largely responsible for this ... > read more

Coffee Consumption Associated With Reduced Risk of Advanced Prostate Cancer (Dec. 8, 2009) — While it is too early for physicians to start advising their male patients to take up the habit of regular coffee drinking, new data revealed a strong inverse association between coffee consumption ... > read more

Higher Coffee Consumption Associated With Lower Liver Cancer Risk (June 27, 2008) — A new large, prospective population-based study confirms an inverse relationship between coffee consumption and liver cancer risk. The study also found that higher levels of gamma-glutamyltransferase ... > read more

Coffee Drinking Related To Reduced Risk Of Liver Cancer (Aug. 2, 2007) — A new study on the relationship between coffee drinking and the risk of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) confirmed that there is an inverse association between coffee consumption and HCC, ... > read more

 

 

 

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