Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world following crude oil and when it comes to its top producers the USA doesn’t even come close. What we do have however is Kona Coffee, a rather prestigious and sought after variety of gourmet coffee grown only in the Kona District of the Big Island of Hawai’i where the rich volcanic soil and climate create favorable conditions for coffee growing. In addition to producing world famous coffee, Kona farms have become popular destinations for tourists in Hawaii.
These days however, conditions haven’t been quite so comfortable with the discovery of an infestation by the Coffee Borer Beetle, an insect native to Africa which, according to the State Department of Agriculture causes roughly $500 million in damage to the coffee industry. After many years it has made its way to Hawaii to wreak havoc on the Kona crop.
The beetle gets its name from the way it bores its way into coffee cherries to reproduce. Given that the insect is native to Africa, it has no natural predators in Hawaii and is an invasive species. Since its discovery, Kona farmers have done what they can to combat the pest like setting up traps and spraying plants with insecticidal fungi (i.e.: Mycotrol O) and more recently, a specialized solution designed to help protect plants against infestation was developed by a company called Symbiotic Solutions and their consultant, a man named Gaillen Wraye. The solution holds an advantage over the traditional insecticides used because as opposed to being a topical spray, it enters the plant and strengthens it from the inside. Some farmers who have adopted use of the juice have reported seeing decreases in the amount of coffee lost to the beetle.
Additionally, the Hawaiian state government has been fighting to keep the infestation from spreading to other islands and coffee growing regions. To that effect, they have issued quarantines on the transportation of unroasted coffee beans, coffee plants and plant parts, used coffee bags, and coffee harvesting equipment.
In spite of efforts to prevent further spread of the beetle however, it remains at large as a threat to the existence of Kona coffee. Recently, farmers have turned to the government for help, with Hawaiian legislators pushing for nearly $1 million to support the effort to eradicate the beetle, requesting $500,000 to help research and develop means to prevent and treat infestations and another $330,000 help mitigate the costs to farmers who have been forced to combat the beetle.
The loss of Kona coffee would impact more than just the people who drink it. The livelihoods of many farmers and their families have been thrown into jeopardy by the crisis. The harsh reality is dawning upon many that only those who are vigilant and take action against the beetle will be able to salvage their farms. It is my sincere hope that the government realizes the peril faced by the Kona coffee industry and lends a hand in putting an end to this conundrum.