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Coffee rust woes to spur rise in migrants to US

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The International Coffee Organization heightened warnings over the costs of the Central America's coffee rust epidemic, flagging raised numbers on crop losses, and forecasting a rush of laid-off plantation workers seeking jobs in the US.

The ICO revealed that Promecafe, an organisation created in 1979 to tackle disease threats to coffee output, had lifted to 2.7m bags its estimate for the losses in Central America in 2012-13 to the outbreak of roya fungus, the cause of coffee rust, which kills or severely weakens trees.

The higher estimate, from a figure last week reported at 2.3m bags, reflected an increased forecast for the damage in Honduras, raised to 1.3m bags, with rust seen wreaking more harm to infected plantations than the 843,000 bags initially thought.

And losses will be even worse in 2013-14, when the disease will have had a full season of impact, with the ICO saying that losses could reach "as far as up to 50%" in Central America, excluding Mexico.

This region produced 15.8m bags of coffee last season, before rust struck, and the loss of potentially nearly 8m bags will be felt particularly in niche markets.

"It will have significant consequences for consumers of specialty coffee, given the importance of Central America as a source of quality washed arabica [beans]," the organisation, an intergovernmental group, said.

'Critical situation'

Besides the loss to the coffee market, the ICO also cautioned over the social impact of the outbreak, affecting countries employing some 2.2m people.

The organisation, saying that the disease had left most of the region's coffee growers facing a "critical situation", warned of a "significant social impact".

"Most coffee in Central America is grown by smallholder farmers, who will find it difficult to absorb the expected losses," the ICO said.

Some 374,000 jobs will be lost this season due to the epidemic, "as the labour used to harvest the crop will not be needed".

The knock-on impact of such mass unemployment will be felt in the US.

"Increased migratory pressure towards North America is to be expected," the ICO said.


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