Ernestina Martinez shows the pale, yellow spots on leaves, a symptom of the Coffee Rust. Copyright: WFP/Hetze Tosta
Ernestina Martinez, a 52-year-old widow and mother of eight children, began her coffee farm a few years ago in the village Ojo de Agua in Intibucá and it produced nearly 4 Metric Tons of coffee. But the Coffee Rust plague, a fungus that affects the leaves of plants, destroyed the crops Ernestina and her children had grown with great sacrifice.
OJO DE AGUA, Intibucá. – "Coffee Rust not only destroyed my farm, but also my dreams", said Ernestina. Once Coffee Rust attacks the plants, there is no choice but to destroy the whole plantation to prevent its spread.
Roger Obed Pineda, whose land was also affected by the disease, is President of the Rural Board of Ojo de Agua, a local organization to which Ernestina belongs, explained that Coffee Rust is “a disease that attacks the plant's leaves." It reduces the plant’s ability to feed itself, he said, adding: "Therefore the coffee fruit will never ripen and that's when the harvest is lost.”
On 24 January the Government of Honduras declared a national emergency due to Coffee Rust, which has affected 25% of 280,000 hectares of crops. Some 110,000 farmers cultivate in those 280,000 hectares in 16 of the 18 departments of the country and create about 1 million jobs.
“Low yields mean no income. That’s why I planned to move to other regions where there are large farms to work on as a day laborer. Then I could get back to my community and rehabilitate my farm,” Ernestina said.
Fortunately for Ernestina and more than 8,300 Honduran families in the same situation, the World Food Programme and local authorities began distributing food to families affected by the Coffee Rust.
Out of 40 small producers who are members of the Ojo de Agua Rural Board, 15 receive WFP assistance through 'Food for Work' projects, said Pineda. Food for Work activities allows farmers and their families to receive food rations while they restore their land, planting coffee seedlings for future crops and alternative crops, such as maize.
“This food is a blessing for us, now the story is different and I'm already working on my farmland,” said Ernestina after receiving her food ration. “I have a nursery, I started cleaning my farm and planting maize and other alternative crops to eat, because the farm will not yield coffee for another 2 years,” said a very optimistic and happy Ernestina.
The President of the Board of Ojo de Agua underlined the need for his community to keep receiving food assistance. If food distributions stop, he said, coffee farmers such as Ernestina will not be able to fully recover and rehabilitate their farmlands.