Coffee Berry Borer & Global Climate Change

Dr. Juliana Jaramillo, a researcher working in Kenya at ICIPE, kindly sent me a few papers concerning Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus hampei) and the effect on climate change.  For a lot of people reading this, the ins and outs of pest control in coffee producing countries isn’t particularly compelling stuff.  That doesn’t mean it is isn’t important, nor deserving of wider attention and interest.

To give a quick idea of its impact:  It is estimated to cause losses of over $500 million USD per year, and affects 20 million coffee producing families worldwide.  Despite this there seems to be a lack of funding in research to provide solutions.

A quick primer on the beetle

Coffee Berry Borer, also known widely as Broca, is technically a small beetle native to Africa – though its effects are now global.  It destroys crops by using the fruit as a home for its young.  The female beetle burrows into the fruit and lays eggs inside.  These eggs hatch and the larvae eat the coffee seeds from the inside out.  By doing this they massively reduce income for coffee producers by reducing yield, as well as quality.

drawing by Gonzalo Hoyos, CENICAFE

Pest Control

There are a few different ways to control the pest – some to prevent attack, and others to deal with damaged fruit.  Pesticides are only useful before the fruit has been infested.  I found a few different suggestions for pesticides online, only to later find that they had been banned in some countries for the unsustainable and negative impact on the environment.  (Pesticides like endrin)


Probably the most common solution are traps. These are pretty easy to make yourself, though they can be purchased. These work by luring the beetles into the traps (often using pheromones), where they are captured and drown.

CIRAD claims that traps can increase affected yields by 10-16%, and cost less than using insecticides. You still have to use some form of chemicals. There is more information about traps here (pdf), and a guide to making one yourself here.

 A control that is considered more sustainable (and acceptable under organic farming certifications) is the introduction of a natural enemy of the beetle.


Enter Karnyothrips flavipes which are a species of thrips, and quite possibly a natural predator of berry boras.  Dr Jaramillo’s latest paper 1 looks at whether this is a viable predator that could introduced to help suppress the coffee berry borer.  Obviously introducing a species into a new environment comes with a whole new set of issues, though it may already be in various countries and simply needs an increase in numbers and concentration.

The thrips follows the borer into the cherry and lays its eggs, and then eats the borers undeveloped young.  Obviously it doesn’t prevent initial infestation and damage, but can limit the size of the borer population.

The other organic option was similar – to introduce a parasitoid.  A parasitoid is very much the same as a parasite, with the exception that it will ultimately kill the the host.  In the past various wasps have been used, with limited success.

Global Climate Change

I don’t think we can really question this is happening.  We’re seeing its effects and there is plenty of data to support it.  Below is a graph from a paper titled “The impact of climatic variability and climate change on arabic coffee crop in Brazil”, which can be found (in English) here.

The effects have also been studied in Mexico.  In a paper titled “Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture: A Case of Study of Coffee Production in Veracruz, Mexico” (abstract available here) one conclusion is that by 2020 the model projects that the increase in temperature would result in a 34% reduction in crop, meaning that growing coffee would no longer be financially viable there.

I also found this interesting little graphic showing the change in coffee producing area with temperature in Uganda.  I know it is concerning robusta but I still think it is relevant.

Added to the fact that climate change is already causing problems for coffee in places like Colombia, specifically with a substantial increase in leaf rust, it is also worrying to read Dr Jaramillo’s paper from 2006 ((.  To quote from it:

In the case of H.hampei, average daily temperatures of 26°C could lead to a reduction of the maximum intrinsic rate of increase, and, consequently, reduced pest activity in coffee plantations. Over the last three decades, the average daily temperature per year ranged between 17.3–22.3°C for Ethiopia, 18.7–24.5°C for Kenya, 22.3–29.8°C for Tanzania and for Colombia 15.5–29.3°C (data from 1989 to 2007, as H. hampei was introduced in 1988 into the country). The potential number of H. hampei generations per year was in average 3.4 for Colombia, 3.1 for Kenya, 3.1 for Tanzania and 1.3 for Ethiopia. According to our predictive model, in regions where the actual average daily temperature has not yet reached 26.7°C, every 1°C increase, would also increase the actual rate towards the maximum value by an average of 8.5%.”

Many coffee growing regions are below the temperature threshold that sees a reduction in broca. Global warming will push many regions into the temperature zones that will see a significant increase in the rate of reproduction – which is obviously a concern.

So we’re looking at an increase in borers in many parts of the world.  Not good.  I’d be interested to hear from people, especially those with an interest in organic and sustainable growing, about how they feel about introducing predators from outside the specific ecosystem to deal with the problems.  

Combine CBB with leaf rust and other issues, and there are certainly some serious challenges for coffee ahead due to the effects of climate change. I’d love to hear more from people who are travelling and dealing with lots of producers on this subject. Tom Owens briefly mentions some issues in this post (which you should all have read!). I also feel like I’ve skimmed this topic slightly – so if people have good links they want to share do please post a comment!

  1. Juliana Jaramillo & Eric G. Chapman & Fernando E. Vega & James D. Harwood (2010) Molecular diagnosis of a previously unreported predatorprey association in coffee: Karnyothrips flavipes Jones (Thysanoptera: Phlaeothripidae) predation, on the coffee berry borer  ↩︎

17 thoughts on “Coffee Berry Borer & Global Climate Change

  1. We also have the terrible white stem borer (xylotrechus quadripes) native to south asia who destrys crops. At a recent plantation visit to south India many farmers told that they could chop down up to 300 bushes a day. Hard times we live in…

  2. I think most agriculturalists are very fearful of the ramifications of introduced species…Ask Hawai’ians about Mongooses, ask Australians about rabbits. There are well-documented problems with importing bees to areas where their predators were absent. I don’t think introducing a species is the answer.

    A more similar case to the coffee borer dilemma might be found in the case of the Pine Borer Beetle in central British Columbia, Canada. Climate change has drastically increased the range of the beetle and species of softwood lumber that had developed in a climate zone free of the beetle have been devastated by it’s northward migration.

    Surely entomological research done at the government and university levels in this temperate zone of Western Canada can be of use in the tropics.

    Now, with climate change effecting coffee production it stands to reason that the coffee-producing world will shift further from the tropics and perhaps higher up the mountainsides. How possible and practical would it be to shift production? How long would it take? Wow.

  3. Love the spat of science-y stuff lately, James!

    The little beetle is a pain, no doubt. It recently arrived in Hawaii and its been causing plenty of commotion (track down my blog if you’re interested in reading my thoughts on its effect on the HI industry). You’re missing an important control measure and one that is still in the testing phase.

    Many folks use a fungus, *Beauveria bassiana* to control the beetle, as well. In may areas, it is a naturally occurring fungus that attacks the CBB. This, combined with traps and excellent sanitation has been shown to provide a high level of control (<5% loss).

    Some research groups, including myself, are exploring the use of a spray-on clay (kaolin) to combat the buggers. Initial reports are showing very positive results.

    As for the introduction of biocontrol it is, as Stickman pointed out, rife with an ugly history. Fortunately, most countries have learned from such mistakes and are much more careful. Nothing enters Hawaii, for example, without very stringent testing. There have been plenty of success stories behind the classic blunders. That being said, everyone would prefer not to bring in biocontrol if they can help it. There's a risk something could go wrong.

    Of course, with CBB, no biocontrol has been shown to be a really fantastic control, from what I understand. Until something much more useful is found, I suspect there won't be any rearing and distribution projects.

  4. Do the Borers have to climb the trunk to access the fruit or can the fly? In some other tree bug problems a ring of goo around the trunk can stop passage.

  5. The borers are considered poor fliers. So, goo won’t work. The real challenge is they breed within the seed- so spraying anything doesn’t do much good once they’re in. The trick is get to them before they dig in or when they’re crawling out.

    I don’t know if the fungus gets dragged in with them or if it snags them coming out. Pictures of the fungus always show a white halo around the entry hole, which suggests that maybe it is dragged in.

    Thanks for the papers, James!

  6. Hi Shawn,
    EPFs (entomopathogenic fungi) like B. bassiana or M. anisopliae are not really considered a very viable CBB management/control option (there is a great deal of literature coming from Colombia and Brazil). Although you could be impressed when walking in a coffee plantation to see all those little “cotton balls” on top of the berries, reality is that when you do a serious estimate of the Bb impact on CBB, infection levels hardly ever are higher than 4-5%.
    There are other disadvantages of using fungus: very high production costs, you need an extremely high amount of inoculum if you want to achieve your 5% control (who wants to spend this money for 5% control?). Also, Bb is a slow killer. It takes approximately 7 days between a spore lands on the CBB cuticle and the first signs of infection to appear: impaired mobility of the borer etc. If you consider that the penetration speed of CBB into yellow/red berries is just a couple of days or even hours, then by the time the fungus has an effect, the berry is already damaged. Another disadvantage is that in the case of CBB you have a very low rate of horizontal transmission because one berry is attacked by one female. EPFs work very good in insects that aggregate, like locusts, because they infect each other, for example.
    I sincerely would not bother with this control strategy. As part of the integrated pest management is fine, but alone, this method stands no chance.
    We are now focusing on disrupting the communication system between coffee plant and insect. This means improving the trapping to avoid even the minimal initial attack (results are very promising so far).
    The CIRAD trap only works for monitoring purposes (traps around 20-30% of the populations), which is not enough.

    I would be very interested to hear about the results with SURROUND, that seem to be a good option. We tried it for a while but had to give up because of the high rainfall in many of the coffee areas in the Americas (the product is washed out), and the high labour costs. The tricky part with CBB is that we may have an option that works well but still is too expensive for small-scale farmers in the tropics…doesn’t pay off.

    On the other hand, the thrips K. flavipes is not intended as a “classical biological control” option (introducing organisms to new areas of distribution to naturally bring down the levels of the pest), but as something we call “conservation biological control”. That means giving already existing predators in coffee plantations, the necessary conditions to increased their numbers so they can have an impact on the pest population.
    If you are interested in knowing more about the CBB predator K.flavipes, James Harwood and I have a talk on the thrips in the symposium “invasive species in the international arena” of the ESA pacific branch meeting in Hawaii from 27-30 March.

    Cheers! Juliana

  7. Aloha Juliana,
    Thanks for chiming in. I wholly admit to not being an entomologist or broca expert! Glad you clarified so much of what I did and did not say!

    My work with Surround hasn’t begun, yet. I’m due to hear about the grant this month to do the research. It is going to be a tough tool in Kona because, as you experienced, it is wet there during fruit maturation. However, if we can demonstrate some success, then it will likely be a good tool for the other regions in Hawaii that will eventually get broca and have dry periods during maturation.

    I’m not yet sure if I’ll be able to make it to symposium in Kona. It is a bit of an expense for me as I live on Oahu. However, I’m trying to arrange a bunch of work there so I can combine the travel and spend the day with you folks!

    At the very least, I’ll see you at the SCAA Symposium!


  8. “be interested to hear from people, especially those with an interest in organic and sustainable growing, about how they feel about introducing predators from outside the specific ecosystem to deal with the problems. ”

    Procafe ( would gladly talk with you about their experience introducing the wasps you mention earlier in this article.

  9. “be interested to hear from people, especially those with an interest in organic and sustainable growing, about how they feel about introducing predators from outside the specific ecosystem to deal with the problems. ”

    Procafe ( would gladly talk with you about their experience introducing the wasps you mention earlier in this article.

  10. Climate change threatens east African coffee via borers…

    Some Like It Hot: The influence and implications of climate change on coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) and coffee production in east Africa. Jaramillo et al. 2011. PLoS One. An important new paper published this week outlines the threat posed b…

  11. Hi Everyone. Since this topic is on the Beetles, you’ll be interested to read about a solution.  I live on Big Island, Hawaii.  Our company Mostly Magik is coming up with a natural bio-control that also incorporates the innate defense mechanisms of the coffee plant.  It will be making use of some of the natural symbiotic biota already resident with the plants, with a few extra natural friendlies.  It was great to have everyone talking about this dilemma at the recent Farm Bureau gathering this past week.  Contact me if you are interested to have this used on your farms.  Its a natural control.  You’ll be able to see significant results in less than 5 days.   Plus we are stimulating the plants to produce a natural defense system that causes the beetles to get “confused” around the plants. 
    Gaillen T Wraye – Mostly Magik .  Creating Magikal Solutions to Global Challenges

  12. Thanks for the information. How ever we have a newly emerged pest called the coffee black twig borer, i am wondering wether the same approach could be used to control the pest

  13.  In Hawaii, the black twig borer is a minor pest.  Healthy, well maintained trees seem to be able to hold it off fairly well.  Sanitation is probably the best control method.  Contact me directly if you want to discuss it more.

  14.  Shawn is right.  the Black twig borer is not as damaging as the CBB beetle.  Just as an update, the CBB Magik is now available under the company Symbiotic Solutions LLC.  My earlier comment of getting results in 5 days requires clarification.  Significant results come within 14 days.  The bacteria colonies in the solution are spread systemically with the foliar spray.  (No protective clothing  required for application)  The bacteria assist the trees endophytic fungi with growing in the coffee cherries where beetle galleries or  “condos” are developed.  These endophytic fungi start digesting the “condo”, making it inhabitable by the larva and beetles.  Those larvae end up dying, and the beetles leave. 

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