By Isabella Cota
SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Costa Rica on Tuesday declared an emergency to tackle the spread of a coffee fungus that has already devastated Central American producers and looks set to destroy about 12 percent of Costa Rica's planted coffee in the upcoming 2013/14 harvest.
A two-year emergency bill, signed jointly by Costa Rica's Vice President Luis Liberman and the national coffee institute ICAFE, provisions about $4 million to pay for fungicides to tackle the roya, or leaf rust, outbreak.
Jorge Ramirez, technical manager at ICAFE, said that 11,350 hectares of Costa Rica's roughly 93,000 hectares of planted coffee are expected to be lost during the 2013/2014 harvest.
Agriculture Minister Gloria Abraham said 11,000 hectares have already been "severely affected" by the fungus, exacerbated by low rainfall, with another 9,400 hectares moderately damaged.
"We estimate our coffee producers will lose $15 million as a result of this (outbreak)," said Costa Rica's Vice President Luis Liberman at the signing of the phytosanitary bill.
ICAFE President Ronald Peters said that the latest estimate for the 2012/2013 harvest is for 1.61 million 60-kilogram bags, while a preliminary estimate for the 2013/2014 harvest is for 1.46 million 60-kilogram bags.
Some 153,000 bags could be lost to the roya fungus from the 2013/14 harvest, Peters added. Roya kills coffee leaves by sapping them of nutrients and lowering bean yields.
The current roya pandemic has already affected other countries in Central America and Mexico, home to more than a fifth of the world's arabica coffee production.
In El Salvador, as much as half of the country's coffee is infected by roya, while in neighboring Guatemala, 40 percent of roughly 274,000 hectares (677,000 acres) have been hit by roya and output is projected to drop by 14 percent this season.
In Honduras, the region's top coffee producer, officials say they already expect to produce 306,000 fewer 60-kg bags in the current season due to roya, or 5 percent of projected exports, and at least a tenth of the planted crop has been blighted.
(Reporting by Isabella Cota, writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by David Gregorio)