The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a four-year grant worth $6 million for a coordinated research effort in the fight against coffee rust.
Coffee rust is a significant problem affecting plants all around the world. In 2008, coffee rust almost killed Columbia’s coffee industry Trusted Source Colombia and Honduras lead the way in tackling devastating coffee rust disease Coffee rust disease has devastated coffee output throughout Latin America, and some countries have been unable to bounce back. But Colombia and Honduras have both resiliently emerged from their slumps. Here’s why. money.cnn.com that was worth over $2.6 billion at the time. The USDA grant is explicitly pitched to help farmers in Puerto Rico and Hawaii, but researchers believe that the work will have significant benefits for coffee producers worldwide.
Coffee leaf rust is caused by Hemileia vastatrix, a fungus that can potentially result in crop losses in over 70% of affected plots. Studies show that the fungus has over 50 physiological races Trusted Source The coffee leaf rust pathogen Hemileia vastatrix: one and a half centuries around the tropics Coffee is the most important agricultural commodity, with an estimated retail value of 70 billion US dollars. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov , which means it has great pathological diversity. Coffee leaf rust has been affecting the coffee sector since the 1800s and is growing more and more each year. The fungus has been causing problems for farmers in South America and Central America since 2012, and just last year, it was first detected in Hawaii.
The USDA grant worth $6 million was formally issued to the Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council (SHAC). The grant heads to a group of researchers from different areas and groups worldwide, including the USDA-ARS Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS) in Puerto Rico, the University of Hawaii, the University of Puerto Rico, and Purdue and Michigan State University.
Jennifer Long, the CEO of World Coffee Research, expressed her excitement for the grant, stating, “It is incredible and important to see the U.S. stepping up investment for research on coffee’s most devastating disease”. While this grant is directly issued to help farmers in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, Long has stated that “This work will benefit not only Hawaiian and Puerto Rican growers, but will lead to insights and innovations that impact coffee farmers everywhere.”
The grant application states that there is approximately 1,470 coffee farmer in Hawaii and 2,300 in Puerto Rico. These farmers are greatly affected by coffee leaf rust, especially in Puerto Rico, where the fungus has been present since at least 1989.
The grant covers a wide scope, as it is going to aid a large consortium of researchers all performing different tasks. At Purdue University, the grant will aid Prof. Catherine Aime in sequencing and assembling the coffee leaf rust (H. vastatrix) genome, developing methods for genetically identifying rust races, and identification of genes associated with virulence. If successful, this can potentially lead to cheaper and more efficient ways of testing leaves for rust, and could even help in managing rust and building resistance to the fungus.
The grant’s short-term goals are to aid in testing rust-resistant coffee varieties in farms in Puerto Rico and Hawaii. The USDA will administer the tests under the International Multilocation Variety Trial (IMLVT) of World Coffee Research (WRC). Hawaii and Puerto Rico will join a host of countries participating in the IMLVT and evaluate the performance of these restaurant varieties against the fungus. By testing these different varieties, researchers can potentially develop long-term solutions that are designed to work in the field, says Suzanna Shriner, coffee farmer and executive director of SHAC. And in terms of immediate benefits, Shriner believes the applied research can potentially support non-resistant tree health while sustaining the agricultural economy of Hawaii and other locations worldwide.
The call for funding coffee leaf rust research grew in October 2020 when the fungus was first detected in Hawaii. Since then, coffee growers from the island have been advocating for increased funding to help fight the threat and reduce the risks associated with coffee leaf rust.