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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEWORLEANS-- A microscopic fungus is wreaking havoc on coffee crops in Latin America. New estimates predict up to a 40-percent drop in production in coming years in the region.

Now scientists, local governments and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are trying to tackle the problem.

In turn, coffee experts say you might not see your favorite type of coffee on the shelf.

'It's effecting five or six countries all at once. Some of which may lose half their crop this year, which is pretty big deal,' said Greg Hill.

Whether you drink it with foam and a splash of milk, black or maybe with some half-and-half, finding quality brews in New Orleans isn't hard. Just ask Hill. But the owner of Cafe Luna on Nashville Avenue knows it's a different story in Central America these days.

'It's an airborne thing. If the winds change, the fungus is going to move onto the next country and destroy some of their crop,' said Hill.

A microscopic fungus also called 'coffee rust' is attacking Arabica coffee trees which produce high-end brews. Nearly $1 billion in damage is currently being felt across Latin America with the trickle-down effect hitting here at home.

'It's going to impact medium-size roasters and regional-size roasters who depend heavily on coffees from Central America,' said Bob Arceneaux with Orleans Coffee Exchange.

The Kenner-based company has been around for almost 30 years now, bringing in beans to roast from all over the world. It predicts the coffee crisis will mean a slight drop in supply but not enough to hurt your wallet.

It's very hard for me to say there's not going to be any price increase. If there is, I think it could be so low that even local consumers won't see it in the price of their cup,' said Tom Oliver with Orleans Coffee Exchange.

The Port of New Orleans says it's the second largest coffee port in the country. Port officials confirm most coffee imports come from Vietnam and Brazil.

Coffee experts say with a drought in the South American country, prices could also go up.

As coffee producers in Latin America fight hard to right Mother Nature's wrong, coffee lovers like Hill hope for a speedy resolution that will put people back at work and not mean a hefty spike in prices.

'Typically I'll just buy something else if something is unavailable or in limited supply and prices are extraordinarily high, in order for me not to raise my prices,' said Hill.

USAID plans to work with Texas A&M University to step up research on rust-resistant coffee varieties and help Latin America better monitor and respond to the fungus.

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