Coffee Leaf Rust has had a devastating effect on many coffee growers, small and large. Many farms have lost production & quality for many years now. The Rust continues to plague many farmers, and the search is on for a safe, environmentally friendly method to combat this fungus.
One husband and wife team of ecologists are currently working in Chiapas, Mexico to battle the scourge of coffee rust.
John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto, a husband-and-wife team of ecologists from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, have been traveling back and forth to coffee farms in Southern Mexico for a good part of the past 20 years.
In the process, they have become two of the world’s foremost experts on coffee agroforestry, largely focusing their work on Finca Irlanda, a 300-hectare organic farm in the mountains above the city of Tapachula in Chiapas, while having a hand in no fewer than 26 scholarly papers based on research there.
Through their 17 years researching the coffee farm and all its natural workings, Perfecto and Vandermeer have likely never seen natural destruction to the scale they’ve witnessed in parts of Mexico and Central America over the past two years due to coffee leaf rust. But their research into the fungus is unique in that it is not necessarily producer- or market-oriented — it is purely scientific in nature and has been demanding an immensity of man hours for observation in the field, rather than merely poring over existing data.
“Our philosophy is mostly one of prevention, keeping the farm strong and healthy with a lot of natural enemies that can combat the pests, rather than trying to solve a problem once it has emerged, which has been the approach of agronomists and pest-control management people,” Perfecto said. “They are presented with a problem. Let’s look for a solution to the problem. Our approach is: Let’s understand the systems that are working well.”
A successful natural product for battling coffee leaf rust would be a welcome development for coffee growers worldwide. Meanwhile, work continues on developing rust resistant cultivars.
©2015 Ben Gangloff
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