By David Alire Garcia / Reuters
Mexican coffee farmers suffered one of their bleakest seasons ever last year as a virulent fungus devastated the crop, stripping down trees to disease-ridden skeletons, starved of sunlight.
Now, another tree is helping to lift the gloom.
Once wedded to arabica coffee trees, many hard-scrabble farmers in Mexico’s tropical east coast are switching to robusta despite its lower value, in part because it can better withstand the fungus known as roya, or leaf rust.
A severe roya outbreak has shattered arabica output in Mexico and Central America over the past two years, destroying thousands of jobs and encouraging a shift toward hardier trees.
“Right now, because of roya, the whole world wants robusta,” said Juan Lopez, a coffee farmer with a 1-hectare plot near Cuichapa in the eastern coffee-producing state of Veracruz, who is among those making the transition to robusta.