Arts, Culture & Media

Coffee Leaf Rust Plant Disease Threatens Central American Crops

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs

Zoom in on the Indian Ocean for our Geo Quiz.

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We're looking for an island nation. Its neighbors to the southwest are the Maldives.

The island we're in search of offers an interesting example of how plants changed the world.

Back when it was under Dutch control, there were valuable cinnamon plantations across the island we want you to name. In the 19th century the economy shifted and the British turned to a more profitable crop, coffee.

Thousands of acres of rainforest were cleared to cultivate coffee on this island. The was known as the coffee rush.

But then out of nowhere came a blight. Coffee leaf rust, a plant disease, and entire plantations withered.

What happened next though is a little surprising.

In 1867 another plant was introduced and grown on plantations. Now this island is the world's 4th largest producer of this plant and the delicious brewed drink that comes from it.

Can you name the country?

The answer to the Geo Quiz is the island nation of Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, one of the world's biggest producers of Ceylon tea.

What happened to Ceylon's coffee industry may be a cautionary tale for what's currently happening in Central America.

James McWilliams teaches history at Texas State University and writes about the danger posed by Coffee Leaf Rust in The Atlantic online. McWilliams says there are some long and short term strategies available to Central American coffee farmers as well as global coffee consumers to prevent an agricultural disaster.