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The biggest threat to coffee

Updated: Apr 18, 2022

The coffee plant is by no means a strong, resilient plant; maybe the heirloom varieties living in the wild in Ethiopia which have evolved with their surroundings, but for the majority of Arabica commercially grown around the world, the name of the game is care-taking.

Coffee farmers strive to provide an environment for their coffee trees to grow healthy and bountiful. They supply the nutrients the plant needs by fertilizing, provide a bit of shading or irrigation and intervene at the first sign of a pest infestation. Unfortunately, climate change continues to make it harder and more expensive for producers to do so.

Higher average temperatures from global warming threaten to increase a pest problem which was already the principal plague in coffee, "La Broca", also known as the Berry Borer Beetle.

La Broca is present worldwide, in all coffee growing regions especially at lower altitudes.

The berry borer beetle can represent a loss of up to a third of a harvest to coffee producers and it's a type 1 defect with some coffee buyers not accepting a single bean showing prior damage,

The beetle drills a pin hole into the coffee bean and lays up to 70 eggs, once hatched the males stay in the bean consuming it from the inside and the females fly out to colonize new coffee beans and thus repeats the life cycle. The affected beans are susceptible to fungus or bacterial infection and once they have fallen on the floor, they become the perfect breeding ground for more coffee berry borer beetles.

Historically pesticides have been used to fight La Broca but with a slew of adverse effects to farm workers and biodiversity conservation as well as contamination of the water and soils, the industry has been forced to adapt. Coffee berry borer control solutions such as coffee berry borer trap made out of used plastic bottles are some of such adaptations.

Other, more "natural" creative attempts that have yielded results in the past have been the use of birds like the Yellow Warbler or the release of Wasp parasitoid Phymastichus coffea by the tens of thousands to contain or eradicate the pest. But by far, the most effective way to fight La Broca is to increase resources for field sanitation, including efficient harvesting, removing all ripe and dropped fruit in conjunction with an adequate nutrition plan to strengthen the plant's natural immune system.

As long as coffee is planted, it will face threats and few threats are bigger than La Broca but thanks to the continuous transfer of knowledge within the industry worldwide, we can all do our part to mitigate the impact. Keep supporting coffee producers using natural solutions to fight off pests and while you drink your next cup of coffee think about all the combined effort it took for that moment to occur, I promise it will taste even better.

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