COVID-19 will cause severe coffee production crisis: Study

Rutgers University

A study led by American based Rutgers University has predicted that COVID-19’s socio-economic effects will likely cause a severe production crisis within the coffee industry.

Titled ‘Epidemics and the future of coffee production’, the study saw researchers from the University of Arizona, University of Hawaii at Hilo, CIRAD, Santa Clara University, Purdue University West Lafayette, and University of Exeter take part.

Kevon Rhiney, Lead Author and Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at Rutgers-New Brunswick says, “Any major impacts in the global coffee industry will have serious implications for millions of people across the globe, including the coffee retail market here in the United States.”

The study proposed that the coffee leaf rust (CLR) epidemic that has already impacted Latin America and the Caribbean over the past decade, in combination with COVID-19, has reduced crop care and investment into coffee farms. This trend was similarly found in the years after the 2008 global financial crises.

Through farmer-scale agriculture practices, these “economic signals” are transferred through global and local effects.

The study further stated that the impacts of COVID-19 on labour, including unemployment, lockdowns, and international border policies could affect farmer investments in coffee plants.

With the coffee industry already having industry challenges from market price volatilities, climate change, plant diseases, and intuitional reforms, the culmination of COVID-19s social and economic disruptions to the industry is predicted to drive the coffee industry into another production crises.

“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,” Kevon says.

“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 study found that the challenges from CLR reflected a trend with disease driven collapses of global commodity markets, such as banana and cocoa, where large scale single crop farming and homogenisation of plant traits make it easier for diseases to emerge and spread.

It was concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic highlights both the strength and vulnerabilities that come from having a globalised coffee system.

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

“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 labour and healthy functioning ecosystems in producing and sustaining profits,” says the research team.

“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-recognized parts of the production process, such as human health, food security, and sustainability.”

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