SpillingTheBeans’ founder Maja Wallengren was recently honored by being invited to discuss the socio-economic implications of the coffee rust disaster in Central America with the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue (IAD), one of the most prestigious policy institutes in the Western Hemisphere.
Maja was invited to comment on a Q&A published in this week’s issue of the organization’s news letter the “Latin America Advisor” which is distributed to public and private leaders from across the Americas to address hemispheric problems and opportunities. Through this dialogue the IAD seeks to build cooperation among Western Hemisphere nations, generating “new policy ideas and practical proposals for action, and getting these ideas and proposals to government and private decision makers” across the region.
A: Maja Wallengren, independent coffee analyst and global coffee reporter based in Mexico City: “The current outbreak of coffee leaf rust is the most severe threat in years, not only to the coffee industries but to overall political stability in Central America. The pest has affected between 50 and 70 percent of the entire coffee area, resulted in crop losses of at least 20 to 30 percent in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador and caused significant damage to crops in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras. The extent of damage will, by all measures, increase in the next few years as the rust fungus takes at least two to four years to bring under control and longer unless it is accompanied by extensive replanting of the affected trees. And this is in the best case scenario where adequate economic resources are available, which they are not in any of the countries in Central America. The reduced harvest output has led to an obvious fall in coffee exports.
While the drop in production and exports won’t start to show in earnest until the next 2013-14 harvest cycle that starts in October, this will have an impact on foreign exchange earnings. But of much more political and economic concern, both for the governments in Central America and to their foreign policy partners in Washington, is the social impact caused by the rust disease. The rust outbreak has already caused losses in the order of 500,000 jobs and as the effects of the fungus deepen during the next year, this figure will continue to grow, since a smaller harvest leads to reduced need for manual labor.
There is a very real risk of the employment losses rising to 1 million jobs across Central America in the year ahead. While the coffee industries and governments in the countries are fighting the rust epidemic, foreign policy partners must step in to speed up the approval of bilateral development projects and the disbursement of funds in order to allow for the cash injections needed to create new jobs and ease at least some of the effects of social disaster.”
For the full article in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor please see:
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