La Roya or Coffee Leaf rust is a fungal disease that has been stirring serious trouble in coffee producing communities for a couple of years now. 2012-2014 were the years Central American coffee producing regions were severely affected by the outbreak of the fungus. Since then many research centers and programs have been working to find solution to the disaster, so as to minimize the damage in any way possible and prevent another wave to spread through the region.
Chemical fungicides and pesticides are usually the most obvious solutions to situation of such kind. But we know how our synthetic ways of life have been affecting our planet and especially in the long run.
La Roya outbreak is simply a contemplation of long practiced un-natural actions by humans which are now resulting in un-natural climatic and biological patterns. Leaf rust and many other pests and diseases used to prevail only at certain altitudes or were found in only certain regions. But changing climatic conditions have allowed diseases to prevail further providing them with favorable conditions in other areas too. More chemicals are probably not the answer.
People are now increasingly becoming demanding of organically produced food. Coffee is no exception. So when leaf rust hits an organic farm the trouble is double. This brings yet another reason to the table to look for organic or natural methods to fight against leaf rust (or plant diseases as a whole).
Uprooting the diseased plants and replacing with new disease resistant cultivars is one natural solution. But it is not a very viable solution as the coffee quality is different among different cultivars. Newly planted plants take a couple of years before they start yielding coffee cherries. Other small step farmers took was trimming foliage so that more sunlight may reach overall leaves on a coffee tree and air circulation could be made better too. Yield on a coffee plant can still be saved if the plant makes it to the harvest season with even 35% of foliage.
But this still isn’t the solution. Perhaps real solution lies in restoring the ancient knowledge indigenous people possessed; going back to nature.
The Coffee Trust is a non-profit organization that has been operating in the Ixil region of Guetemala since 2008. Under the Roya Recovery Project that they run, they have effective solution in “effective microorganisms” or EM as they are widely called.
EM is basically a culture of anaerobic bacteria; usually multiple strains of Lactobacillus. Many strains of Lactobacilli occur naturally on the skin of all living organisms and are also found in the gut. Lactobacilli also occur naturally in soil and on surface of the leaves. Such wide natural occurrence indicates how important Lactobacilli can be. They fight against pathogens and play important role in keeping other organisms; simply healthy.
The Coffee Trust is not the one who has discovered Lactobacilli significance or wide occurrence. But they sure have discovered how spraying bacterial culture diluted with molasses or water over rust affected plant leaves kills the fungus. EM is also incorporated in farm and there Lactobacilli go up against the fungus’ requirements of nutrients, multiplying rapidly.
A lot of literature is available on EM and its diverse range of advantages. The cooperative TCT has discovered a solution that is natural, user and environment friendly and is useful not only with coffee plants in fighting against leaf rust but also holds health benefits for farm animals and garden plants. They are also helping farmers to grow their own culture of these useful bacteria so they can keep going without any outside resources.