Cultivating Crisis: Coffee, Smallholder Vulnerability, and the Uneven Sociomaterial Consequences of the Leaf Rust Epidemic in Jamaica

Kevon Rhiney, Chris Knudson, Zack Guido

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Since September 2012, the Jamaican coffee industry has been grappling with the coffee leaf rust (CLR) epidemic caused by the fungal pathogen Hemileia vastatrix. The first widespread outbreak affected more than one third of coffee plants across the island, resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenues for the sector. The emergence and spread of the disease have been linked to a confluence of factors ranging from changing climatic conditions to impacts from extreme weather events, improper farm management practices, and institutional and market constraints that restrict control measures. In this article, we use the case of the CLR epidemic to illustrate how its emergence and continued presence in the Jamaican Blue Mountains is inextricably tied to the wider political–economic and ecological conditions under which coffee production takes place and how H. vastatrix’s complex pathogenesis makes the disease difficult to control. Drawing on an empirical study comprising household surveys, focus groups, archival research, and interviews, we demonstrate how smallholder farmers’ ability to manage rust impacts was severely compromised by ecological pressures, resource constraints, bounded knowledge systems, and market and regulatory limitations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)440-458
Number of pages19
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Volume111
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • coffee
  • materiality
  • plant diseases
  • political ecology
  • smallholders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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