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A DEADLY fungus is wiping out coffee crops across Central America, threatening the livelihoods of the region’s poorest farmers.
Nearly three-quarters of plantations in El Salvador alone have been hit, at a cost of almost £50 million and over 13,400 jobs.
The coffee rust disease, caused by the Hemileia vastatrix fungus that spreads orange dust on coffee bush leaves, is to blame.
Plantations in Guatemala and Honduras have been infected also, reports aid agency Plan International.
“The loss of livelihoods that depend on coffee plantation work will affect the food security and nutritional status of day labourers and their children,” says Plan’s country director in El Salvador, Rodrigo Bustos.
"The loss of the coffee harvest could have a greater impact on women and girls, who are forced to leave school and engage in income generating activities.”
Climate change is seen as one factor in the spread of coffee rust, with a rise in average temperatures and rainfall providing ideal conditions for the fungus.
But the age and upkeep of coffee crops have also played a part, with farmers having no financial incentive to invest in costly prevention techniques.
Plan is looking to support some of the hardest hit families with food aid, including flour, rice, beans and oil to supplement diets.
Projects to help farmers diversify into beekeeping and agro-tourism are also in pipeline.
"Financial resources are urgent in the short-term for emergency care following the coffee rust epidemic,” says Mr Bustos.
“We also need full agricultural adaptation to climate change, which would ensure the food security and nutritional autonomy of the country's poorest families."
For more information on Plan’s work visit www.plan-uk.org