Coffee’s #1 Enemy Can Now Be Controlled with a Safe and Sustainable Approach

Our patented CropCoat® technology helps coffee growers control the coffee berry borer, which threatens the livelihoods of coffee growers worldwide

Coffee is one of the most important tropical commodities, with global production estimated to be over 165 million 60-kg bags and annual revenue exceeding USD 200 billion. Around 25 million farming households depend on coffee for their living. Coffee is grown and processed in more than 70 countries. The top 5 coffee-producing countries account for more than 70% of global output. Brazil is the leading producer with an estimated annual output of 53 million 60-kg bags, followed by Vietnam (28 million bags), Colombia (14 million bags), Indonesia (12 million bags) and Ethiopia (7 million bags).

Coffee rust and the coffee berry borer are the biggest enemy of the coffee growers. At Crop Enhancement we have been working on a biological solution that will help coffee growers deal with these two enemies. Let’s start with the coffee berry borer.

The tiny beetle is endemic to central Africa and over the last 100 years has spread to most coffee-producing countries through contaminated seeds. The coffee berry borer (also known as the coffee borer beetle) has optimized itself well for a life in the coffee berry. As its name implies, it has strong mandibles that enable it to drill into the berry through either the central disc or the side walls.

Once inside the berry, it lays several dozen eggs, which become larvae that start eating the beans. There are about 10 females for every male, and new offspring mate inside the seed. Males remain in the berries for their 40-day lifespan. Females, which can live up to 150 days, are fertilized a few days before they generally disperse to colonize more berries. The same plant can host three to five generations of beetles.

Crop damage and pest control responses

Three types of coffee borer damage have been reported: 1) premature fall of young berries, 2) increased vulnerability of infested ripe berries to fungus or bacterial infection, and 3) reduction in both yield and quality of coffee. The economic fallout from this damage effects the livelihood of more than 20 million families across several continents. Coffee berry borer damage also affects the gastronomic qualities of the coffee, causing our cup of coffee to taste bitter. As a result, growers with significant borer infestations see the marketability of their crop severely impacted.

Coffee berry borers are very difficult to manage with insecticides because they are protected by the berries. Growers have been using a variety of toxic pesticides. The most widely used insecticide was endosulfan—now banned because of its significant toxicity. Nowadays, growers often use another chemical: the now infamous Chlorpyrifos. The Chlorpyrifos label recommends the use of a respirator and other significant personal protection equipment (PPE). Its label also states that Chlorpyrifos is toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, small mammals, and birds. The use of this product can significantly endanger the health of the growers and their family, and have a harmful impact on the local ecosystem if not used properly. However, in a tropical environment characterized by high heat and humidity, the workers are generally not adopting the extensive PPE recommendations.

Crop Enhancement’s CropCoat® technology is displacing toxic insecticides

Soon however, growers will be able to use Crop Enhancement’s products. Our CropCoat® product forms durable, biodegradable coatings on plant surfaces that camouflage plants from pests. Insects do not recognize coated surfaces as desirable locations for feeding or reproduction. And if they ultimately choose to feed on the plant, they often consume the coating, which displaces nutrition from their diets. The malnutrition and starvation that results causes the pest population to collapse, providing effective control without the use of conventional chemical pesticides.

To demonstrate CropCoat performance, we carefully selected more than 20 trial sites in Latin America and tested our product using industry-recognized testing standards such as randomized plots with at least four replications. In those trials, we compared CropCoat against the newest and best synthetic chemicals available.

Our results have shown that there are no statistical differences in controlling coffee berry borers between CropCoat and those industry-leading products. We will continue in the next couple of years to test CropCoat in coffee with our partners in Brazil, Columbia and Central America. In the meantime, we will soon start applying for registrations in a number of Latin America countries so that growers can add a sustainable solution to their toolbox to control this devastating pest—and will no longer need to use one of the industry’s most toxic pesticides.