Utne Blogs > Environment

Beetles Devastate Coffee Plants

by David Doody


Tags: coffee berry borer beetle, climate change, Environment, Yale Environment 360, David Doody,

Coffee Beans

In another example of environmental destruction begetting environmental destruction Erica Westly, in Yale Environment 360, tells us how the “cooling effects of shade trees have provided some of the best protection from coffee pests, including the coffee berry borer,” a pest that can devastate coffee plants and that can spread rapidly with minor increases in temperature.  “Studies have shown shade trees can reduce the temperature around coffee leaves by 3 degrees F to 7 degrees F, depending on the environment.”  But shade equals less crops, while sun increases yields, so “many coffee growers have cut down the trees around their coffee plants,” creating an environment more likable to the coffee-loving beetle.

Westly writes:

Until recently, the coffee berry borer was confined to just a few regions in Central Africa. But since the 1980s, the beetle has gradually spread to every coffee-growing region except Hawaii, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea. Juliana Jaramillo, a biologist at Kenya’s International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology, suspects temperature increases are to blame. She and her collaborators recently identified the temperature range in which the beetle can survive. They found that the average minimum temperature the borer requires to reproduce is about 68 degrees F, and the mountainous regions of Ethiopia did not reach that temperature until 1984.

Jaramillo’s suggestions for the coffee industry are of the either/or variety, not offering many options against the ills of climate change: “Either they start investing in climate research, or they educate the consumers to drink something else.”  I can’t see coffee companies educating their customers to move away from their product, so hopefully they’ll pick Jaramillo’s other option.

Souce: Yale Environment 360

Image by Jeff Kubina, licensed under Creative Commons.