California-Based The Rogers Family Company Launches Initiative to Combat Coffee Disease
Sri Lanka first witnessed the plant-destroying disease, la roya, in 1869. Fungus caused powdery yellow spots to appear on the leaves. Then, the leaves began to brown and drop. The disease spread viciously and unyieldingly, weakening the plants and reducing yields, eventually killing the coffee plant. Within 50 years, the disease destroyed the country’s entire coffee production industry.
Also known as “coffee rust,” roya continued to strike and devastate coffee-producing nations, causing $1 billion in damage to the coffee industry. To combat this, the Lincoln, California-based Rogers Family Company and their green coffee buyer, Pete Rogers, launched the “Rust Trust” project, an initiate that aims to plant 50 million trees in numerous regions by 2016, to replace those lost to roya.
Pete Rogers conceived and manages the Rust Trust, which launched in January of 2014. It was developed months prior to the U.S. government’s announcement that they planned to work with the University of Texas to develop a solution to the coffee crisis. Rogers spends six to nine months with his “boots to ground at source,” working with employees and coffee farmers at farms, proving that he has credible, first hand perspective on rust and any issues related to the coffee industry.
Last year, the countries hit the hardest by coffee rust were Guatemala, Peru and Mexico, where production declined 20 to 40 percent. The Rogers have partner farms and own and operate farms in Guatemala, Peru, and Mexico, as well as Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Hawaii and Rwanda. The Roger’s directives help farmers in those nations secure loans, buy trees, buy seeds, learn how to graft, buy fertilizer, buy chemicals to spray for roya, become educated on rouse defenses, become educated on higher product yields, and learn to live for up to three years with almost no income.
The Rogers family has allotted $1 million, through its charitable fund, to launch the Rust Trust’s first phase in Mexico’s Chiapas region, where approximately 1,175,000 coffee trees were planted on 293 hectares. The initial $451,000 expenditure in January 2014 will help 146 families (500 people); the overall effort strives to break the cycle of poverty, and protect nature through this and other unique initiatives that will counter the global challenge poised to affect millions. The Community Aid program, which goes beyond the efforts of fair trade, has built thousands of modern housing units, built or helped build 46 schools, and 11 medical clinics in coffee growing regions. Also, the company has also helped to preserve native flora and fauna, including thousands of acres of forest habitat that harbors endangered wildlife.
Founded in 1979 by Jon B. Rogers and his wife Barbara Rogers, the company supplies “Responsibly Grown/ Fairly Traded” gourmet coffee to retail, wholesale and individual customers nationwide. Their first warehouse was in San Francisco, had only 4 fulltime employees, and sold $132,000 in coffee during their first year. The Rogers now employ 294 employees worldwide, they own 10 coffee farms in Panama and Mexico, and they had $166 million in sales in 2013.