Blight sweeping Central American coffee plantations puts thousands out of work
But while Americans have yet to feel its effects, the blight may soon prove to be as disastrous as any earthquake or volcanic eruption to afflict Central America. Already, its knocked nearly half a million people out of work and driven up crime. And the crisis is only beginning. It may soon send a stream of new migrants toward the United States, speed up deforestation and invigorate illicit narcotics production.
It also serves as a bellwether on climate change, which appears to be causing temperatures to rise, taking plagues and infestations to higher elevations that once were considered too cool and dry for the rust fungus.
At the San Pedrana Cooperative on the flanks of the Fuego Volcano southwest of Guatemala City, this countrys capital, Miguel Angel Xia turned over a leaf to display the orange, dust-like fungus that sucks nourishing sap from coffee leaves, killing the bushes.
Rust has been around for 30 years, Xia said. But it was always at 3,000 feet or below. And now, its up to 5,000 feet. It never wouldve been this high before.