Cultivating Crisis: Coffee leaf rust and the (co)production of vulnerability in the Jamaican Blue Mountains

Authors: Kevon Rhiney*, Rutgers University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: political ecology, agriculture, coffee, global change, more-than-human geographies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since September 2012, the Jamaican coffee industry has been grappling with the coffee leaf rust (CLR) disease. The first flare-up 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 can be linked to a confluence of factors ranging from changing climate conditions, impacts from extreme weather events, farm level management practices and bounded knowledge systems, to institutional and market restrictions. We draw on critical political ecologies and more-than-human scholarship, to demonstrate the complex, shifting and interconnected ways nature-society dynamics have been shaping the outbreak and spread of CLR in the Jamaican Blue Mountains. Within this entangled socio-ecological landscape, we argue that vulnerability to CLR is co-produced and mediated through the existing socio-economic, technological and structural conditions driving blue mountain coffee production and the coffee leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix) unique materiality and biological properties that makes it difficult to detect and control. The study is informed by a mixed methods approach involving household surveys, focus groups, archival research and interviews. The study highlights the multilayered, interconnected, embodied and nestled contexts within which plant disease outcomes often get negotiated in rural agrarian settings.

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