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COVID-19 threatens global coffee industry

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RUTGERS University—led study has said that COVID-19 socio-economic effects will likely cause another severe production crisis in the coffee industry.

The study, appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, included researchers from the University of Arizona, the University of Hawaii at Hilo, CIRAD, Santa Clara University, Purdue University West Lafayette and the University of Exeter.

According to an Author and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at Rutger, Kevon Rhiney, “Any major impacts on the global coffee industry will have serious implications for millions of people across the globe, including the coffee retail market there in the United States, coffee is one of the most widely traded agricultural commodities in the world, supporting the livelihoods of about 100 million people globally, especially in low income countries.

“But the industry has long struggled with many stresses, including institutional reforms, market price volatilities, extreme climate and plant diseases and pests. And over the past year, COVID-19 has become a new threat to the coffee industry by acting as potential trigger for renewed epidemics of coffee leaf rust, the most severe coffee plant disease in the world”.

He also revealed that researchers have drawn on recent studies of the fungal disease, which has severely impacted several countries across Latin America and the Caribbean over the last decade.

They looked at how past outbreaks had been linked to poor crops and investment in coffee farms, and how COVID-19’s impacts on labor, unemployment, stay-at-home orders and international border policies could affect investments in coffee plants and in turn create conditions favorable for future shocks.

He noted that researchers concluded that the COVID-19 socio-economic disruptions are likely to drive the coffee industry into another severe production crisis.

“Our paper shows that coffee leaf rust outbreaks are complex socio-economic phenomena, and that managing the disease also involves a blend of scientific and social solutions,” Rhiney said. “There is no ‘magic bullet’ that will simply make this problem disappear.

 Addressing coffee leaf rust involves more than just getting outbreaks under control; it also involves safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods in order to build resilience to future shocks.”

“The spread of COVID-19 and coffee leaf rust both reveal the systemic weaknesses and inequalities of our social and economic systems,” Rhiney said.

 According to the team, “We can thus only have a healthy coffee system by building up the well-being of the most vulnerable. It is critical to recognise the key roles of labor and healthy functioning ecosystems in producing and sustaining profits. This means challenging the status quo and the current coffee value chains to better recognise the value produced by small-scale producers, while at the same time uplifting essential but under-recognised parts of the production process, such as human health, food security and sustainability.”

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