As we are winding down on the 2012-2013 crop that produced less than expected due to the Berry Borer infestation, and then was further damaged by Hurricane Sandy, Jamaican coffee production is expected to increase with the 2013-2014 crop. Feeling confident that the farmers and the agricultural sector of the Jamaican Government had stepped up to fight the Berry Borer, an increase of 20% was likely to be achieved. However, even though we are still picking, Senator Norman Grant is quoted from an article posted on repeatingislands.com, “The country’s failure to adequately address coffee berry borer infestation and coffee leaf rust disease during the years when demand for coffee on the global market was in decline could see the local industry missing out on some US$10 million in potential earnings for the crop year 2013-14.”
The Coffee Leaf Rust Problem was an unexpected result of the damage from Hurricane sandy in 2012. The excess moisture provided the perfect breeding ground for Hemileia vastatrix, the virus that causes leaf rust. From the Wiki Definition it; is an obligate parasite, that lives mainly on the plants of genus Coffea, reportedly also on Gardenia in South Africa. It needs suitable temperatures to develop (not less than 10°C and not greater than 35°C). The presence of free water is required for infection to be completed. Loss of moisture after germination has been initiated inhibits the whole infection process.
What that basically means is that the leaf rust effects Jamaican coffee production by inhibiting the Photosynthesis process where plants turn sunlight into food. It slows down the plants ability to produce, and will eventually kill the plant sooner that it would stop producing naturally. There are summits being held worldwide, and Senator Grant has signed an agreement for $10 million worth of fertilizer, however that equates to rising production costs and fields being abandoned by farmers because the cost to produce is too high. It puts Jamaica’s Coffee supply in a precarious place. We have an already high demand, low supply crop that is expected to increase it’s production, but in order to do that it takes funding which will drive up the end cost of the coffee since it costs more to produce.
In the end, what does that mean for Jamaican coffee production? There are several factors that will determine the overall out come as pointed out in the conversation with Senator Grant. After the recession in 2011 with the Tsunami, Japan’s failure to meet its quota obligations sent the local industry into a tailspin, prompting a diversification of its export portfolio in order to mop up the excess production. Then, Hurricane Sandy, in 2011, brought what some experts believe to be a particularly virulent strain of the coffee leaf rust disease, which, coupled with coffee berry borer infestation, pushed up production costs, forcing some farmers to abandon their fields. Though Government provided some financial assistance to deal with the leaf rust, there has been a recent resurgence of the disease. That said, it will be a challenge for the smaller Coffee Farmers to maintain conditions to combat the leaf rust, keep the fields clean, and increase production to compensate for the losses. If too many are forced to abandon their fields, it could spell an even further decline as Jamaican Coffee production is comprised of 5-6,000 Coffee Farmers in the Blue Mountains.