The Coffee Berry Borer
The coffee berry borer, Hypothenemus hampei, is the coffee farmer’s greatest enemy. This millimeters-long beetle, also known as CBB, lives in almost every coffee-growing country in the world. Armed with its ability to completely digest caffeine, the CBB wreaks havoc upon coffee crops.
The beetles burrow into coffee cherries to lay eggs, which hatch and live inside the beans until they emerge to lay their own eggs. Coffee beans have a natural safeguard against pests in the form of the greatest chemical compound ever discovered: caffeine. Caffeine normally acts as a pesticide to prevent creatures from eating the coffee plant, but the coffee borer can actually live entirely off coffee beans, unaffected by the caffeine due to special bacteria in their guts. The coffee has no defense against them, and they can destroy between 50 to 100 percent of the cherries on a plantation by the harvest time. Many studies have been undertaken to reduce the economic damage of CBB on coffee crops the world over.
CBB in Indonesia
CBB is rampant in Indonesia, and is one of the causes of the low productivity compared to other origins. For example coffee yield in Brazil is 1,600 to 1,800 kg per Hectare whereas Indonesia produces 700-760 kg per Hectare. One of the main ways for farmers to get rid of CBB is clear all the berries off their trees after the harvest. But in Indonesia’s mild climate multiple harvests take place throughout the year. There are almost always cherries on the trees and some varieties bear fruit year-round. One of the difficulties in controlling the spread of CBB in Indonesia is due to the nature of small holder farmers being the major source of production. Even if one farmer was able to manage their trees well enough to prevent spread, their neighbors may not. Due to the close quarters small holder farmers have with one another, CBB can easily spread from one plot of coffee trees to another.
We have personally suffered great losses from CBB. In 2018 coffee we had stored in a warehouse that must have been slightly out of moisture specifications had latent eggs hatch. By the time we could get this warehouse infestation under control we lost a good deal of our coffee. Later on our roastery warehouse was infested when we brought in a sample of green beans from a new farmer with poor management practices. We managed to halt the spread of the beetle to any of our other coffees, but it was a very upsetting experience.
The Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute is studying ways to help Indonesian farmers control the pest’s spread. CBB has few natural enemies, and most of these threats to them are not even found in Indonesia. One natural enemy of CBB in Indonesia is the white muscardine fungus . Naturally occurring in soil, once infected it grows inside the beetle’s body and can kill within days, destroying its internal organs.
Some studies have explored destroying the beetle’s ability to digest coffee by attacking the bacteria in its digestive tract. This decreases the eggs they produce by 95 percent and completely stunts their growth. However, there is not yet a mass-produced spray or antibiotic that targets these beetles. Some Indonesian farmers are taking preventative measures by controlling the humidity of their farms. If they co-crop their coffee with plants to shade it, the humidity will affect the life cycle of the beetle.
There are other possible methods to prevent CBB from taking over a field. Indonesian farmers have been using traps to halt the spread of the beetle. The Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute has studied the use of simple traps made out of water bottles in cutting down the beetle’s numbers. The traps are baited with a substance called Hypotan, which smells like coffee and attracts the beetles. It is now being mass-produced and sold to farmers in various regions of Indonesia.
These are only a few methods, but it helps to do everything possible to halt coffee’s most dangerous predator. Our goal is to help our farmers produce the maximum amount of good coffee, and we hope to do so by sharing as much knowledge about CBB control as we can. We are doing our part to fight this scourge through showing farmers effective ways of preventing and killing off this beetle before it can destroy any more coffee.