Wired reports on a disease infecting coffee plants across Central America that could lead to shortages around the world. "Regional production fell by 15 percent last year, putting nearly 400,000 people out of work, and that’s just a taste of what’s to come. The next harvest season begins in October, and according to the International Coffee Organization, crop losses could hit 50 percent." The disease is called coffee rust, and it has been damaging crops to some degree since the 1800s. It's not known yet exactly why coffee rust has become such a problem now, but one of the leading suspects is climate change. "Since the mid-20th century, though, weather patterns in Central America and northern South America have shifted. Average temperatures are warmer across the region, with extremes of both heat and cold becoming more pronounced; so are extreme rainfall events." The fungus that causes coffee rust thrives on warm, humid air, and higher temperatures have allowed it to climb to higher altitudes than ever before. But another likely cause is the way in which coffee is planted and harvested these days: the plants evolved as shade-dwellers, but are now often placed in direct sunlight. They're also clustered closer together, which facilitates the spread of disease. "The integrity of this once-complicated ecosystem has been slowly breaking down, which is what happens when you try to grow coffee like corn."
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