22 Aug 2013 11:42 EDT DJ Peru's Government Struggles To Calm Angry Coffee
Growers By Robert Kozak
LIMA, Peru--Peru's government is struggling to calm angry coffee growers who are demanding more aid to combat the roya disease, a plant-eating fungus that has affected crops in various Latin American nations.
Government officials have forecast that the roya disease will lead to a decline of at least 25% in Peru's coffee output this year.
On Wednesday thousands of coffee growers protested on the main central highway leading into the Andes mountains from Lima, blocking traffic until police launched tear gas and took other measures to open the highway.
President Ollanta Humala called on the coffee growers to abstain from acts of violence, and reiterated that the government is offering aid.
"Even if they are privately-owned crops, the state is helping. Acts of violence aren't going to resolve the problem, as the roya will continue to advance whether there are acts of violence or not," Mr. Humala told reporters.
The government has been blaming climate change for the spread of the roya.
On Thursday Agriculture Minister Milton Von Hesse said that there had been a problem of communications and that the government was channeling aid. The President of the National Federation of Coffee Growers, Isaac Porras, told RPP radio Thursday that the government's aid package of 100 million soles
($36 million) fell well short of what was needed, and came too late.
"The plants are already dead. This 100 million soles is a failure," he said.
Peru's National Coffee Chamber, representing some producers, said earlier this week that the roya has ruined some 55,000 hectares of coffee plants, representing an estimated loss totalling $330 million.
The government has declared a state of emergency in a number of coffee-growing regions, including Cusco, Junin and San Martin.
Earlier this year, the National Coffee Chamber said it expects Peru will produce 6.0 million quintals, or 46-kilo bags, of coffee this year. It originally projected output of 7.5 million quintals.
Peru is one of the world's top 10 producers of coffee.
Write to Robert Kozak at firstname.lastname@example.org