Beetle takes a bite out of Kona coffee

Maria da Silva
Maria da Silva
Skip Bittenbender
Skip Bittenbender
Bob Smith
Bob Smith

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

Kona, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - A tiny insect with a big name - Hypothenemus hampei - has Kona coffee farmer Maria da Silva inspecting her coffee beans.

and worrying about tomorrow.

"Who's going to buy Kona coffee which no longer has the quality of Kona coffee," she said.

She's concerned her farm will be attacked by the Coffee Berry Borer.

The invasive insect that's native to Central Africa and is found in coffee regions around the world is now living in Kona.

"It probably came in with someone who had visited an area where there was coffee berry borer," said Skip Bittenbender of the UH College of Tropical Agriculture.

The beetle bores into the coffee cherry, lays eggs, and eats the bean. An infestation can ruin a crop.

"It's a simple proposition. If your damage is ten percent of your beans then you're losing ten percent of your yield, you're losing ten percent of your income. And it just goes down the line," Kona coffee grower Bob Smith said.

With over 500 coffee farms, Kona is a potential feasting ground for the beetle.

So far it's been found on only a handful of farms, including Smith's.

"It took me five minutes to find it," he said.

To curb the beetle's spread, agriculture experts are telling growers to sanitize their bean buckets and destroy beans that fall to the ground..

Bittenbender said chemical treatments aren't registered in the U.S. so other methods like using fungus treatments will be explored.

"There's also a number of insects that will attack the coffee berry borer," he said.

Coffee farmers are skeptical.

"There really is no real solution," Smith said. "The solution is we're going to have to live with it."

So far da Silva has not found the beetle on her farm. If she does, she's willing to wipe out her trees and start over.

"If that would take care of it - one and done - that would be terrific," she said.

But that may be just wishful thinking.

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