Costa Rica celebrates National Coffee Day

September 20, 2013

On Friday morning, Costa Rica celebrated its National Coffee Day with speeches, folkloric dances and, of course, coffee.

The Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG) used the event as an opportunity to announce plan to begin certifying coffee growers as “carbon neutral,” as part of Costa Rica’s national goal to reach a zero-carbon footprint by 2021.

The certification will require farmers to use less nitrogen-based and synthetic fertilizers, be more efficient with their water and energy consumption, and participate in forestation projects to capture and sequester carbon dioxide. 

Coffee is perhaps Costa Rica’s best-known product and makes up 4 percent of the small country’s exports.

Despite the celebration Friday, Costa Rican coffee farmers have had a difficult year.

The fungus Hemileia vastatrix, also known as coffee rust or roya, is devastating crops across Central America. Costa Rica joined several countries across the isthmus in declaring a national coffee emergency last January. 

Luis Zamora, national coffee manager for MAG, told The Tico Times earlier this year that officials expect a 20 percent drop in production next year that could knock tens of thousands of small farmers out of the coffee business for two to three years.

As much as 30 percent of Costa Rica’s coffee crop this year could be lost to roya.

In July, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla signed a $40 million aid bill designed to help 250,000 small coffee producers.  

Minister Gloria Abraham told The Tico Times that the coffee rust crisis was the first sign of the impact of climate change on the country’s coffee production. Warmer temperatures have allowed that fungus to climb to higher altitudes where coffee is grown, along with drier but humid weather during the growing season.

“We’re going through a difficult period right now because of the roya, which isn’t just a Costa Rican problem. But this is a sector that does not lay down and die, so to say, it looks for solutions and works with the government to remedy the problem,” Abraham said.

The current wave of leaf rust in Central America is the worst since it was first found on the isthmus in 1976. PROMECAFE, a coffee research organization based in Guatemala, estimates that roya could cost Central American countries $500 million.

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