Just as bartenders and margarita-addicts were reeling the last couple months over the lime shortage, we're getting word that baristas and artisanal latte addicts are about to have their own shortage to squawk about. A fungus called coffee rust has already caused an estimated $1 billion in crop damage across Latin America, driving up prices of high-end Arabica beans and single-origin type coffees of the sort you see at Blue Bottle, Sightglass, etc.

The countries most affected so far are the smaller, poorer ones, especially Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Costa Rica, whereas bigger coffee-producing countries like Colombia and Brazil are managing the fungus a little better.

Ric Rhinehart of the Specialty Coffee Association of America tells Salon that a crisis of coffee quality is likely on the horizon as smaller coffee shops either have to raise prices on the single-origin stuff, or switch to blends that are easier to find. He notes that Guatamalen antigua coffee beans are already very hard to source, and eventually all coffee snobs will be paying "extraordinarily high prices for those [and other special] coffees, if you can find them at all."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development is partnering with Texas A&M University's World Coffee Research Center on a $5 million project to help eliminate the fungus and find fungus-resistant varieties of beans.

But the government isn’t doing this just to protect our $4 specialty coffees, as much as Americans love them. The chief concern is about the economic security of these small farms abroad. If farmers lose their jobs, it increases hunger and poverty in the region and contributes to violence and drug trafficking.

Washington estimates that production could be down anywhere from 15 percent to 40 percent in coming years, and that those losses could mean as many as 500,000 people could lose their jobs.

So far, big companies like Starbucks have been making it through by sourcing from multiple places, but even their prices could be affected soon. Cheaper, mass-produced coffee consumed in this country is mostly from Asia, so that won't be affected.

And unfortunately for all people who advocate shopping for all things local, we can't grow coffee here. Or limes, apparently. Science, or climate change, needs to solve this fast.

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