Organic Ways to Fight the Coffee Borer Beetle

An old pest is back and posing a major threat to Brazil’s coffee crop. According to Reuters the coffee borer beetle is causing major damage to coffee crops in the world’s leading producer.

Coffee growers in parts of Brazil are grappling with the worst beetle infestation in recent memory as a ban on a pesticide used for 40 years has helped the destructive insect flourish, threatening bean quality and yields.

The damage from the beetle – until 2013 controlled by the pesticide endosulfan – is compounding a smaller biennial production year for Brazil’s producers, who are already struggling with the impact of poor weather in some areas as well as plant fatigue after a big harvest. The government expected the annual crop to be down 11 percent on the year even before the beetle problem emerged.

The beetle known in Latin America as la broca is especially prevalent in Brazil’s largest growing area where 40% of its coffee is produced. Crop damage will be has high as 30% infestation of coffee beans. How did this happen?

It is not just the restriction of the pesticide endosulfan that has caused this infestation. Last year Brazil had a bumper crop of coffee which meant hiring more workers than usual and many unskilled coffee pickers left lots of bad beans on the ground. These beans became infected by the coffee borer beetle and became the seed that grew into this year’s major infestation. And heavy rains and high humidity contributed to the coffee borer beetle thriving.


From India The Hindu calls endosulfan the spray of death. It is an off patent organochlorine insecticide and acaricide that is widely banned due to its toxic effects on humans and tendency to accumulate in the environment. It is effective in controlling the coffee borer beetle but only if sprayed before the beetle enters the coffee bean. And it can be carried over large distances on the wind and by water thus threatening adjacent organic coffee crops. How can the coffee borer beetle be controlled without the use of this dangerous chemical?

Organic Ways to Fight the Coffee Borer Beetle

Several years ago we wrote about the coffee borer beetle and how organic growers deal with it without resorting to chemicals like endosulfan.

The coffee borer beetle is a threat to coffee crops wherever it is found. In the Latin American regions where the pest is found it goes by the names barrenador del café, gorgojo del café and broca del café. Infestation is spread via the inadvertent transport of infected beans. The primary way to continue to produce healthy organic coffee when there is an infestation is to hand sort the bean and dry promptly after picking. Various organic approaches can be used to deter and destroy the pest while maintaining an organic crop and organic coffee certification.

Protecting habitat for birds is useful in fighting the coffee borer beetle.

When young beetles come out of a coffee bean, various birds such as the Yellow and Rufous-capped Warbler feast on these insects. In Costa Rica the presence of these birds by itself reduces infestation by half.

And you can fight bugs with bugs.

There are wasps native to Africa that are useful in controlling the coffee borer beetle. The wasp lays her eggs and the offspring eat the beetles. The downside is that the coffee plantation then has lots of stinging wasps flying around. Nevertheless this is a totally organic means of controlling a beetle than can destroy an entire crop. Another wasp found in Togo attacks adult beetles and tends to remain with the crop for a long time. It is widely used on the Arabica coffee plantations of Colombia.

Ants, nematodes, and fungi can be used to help control the coffee borer beetle. All of these approaches allow the grower to control the pest without using chemicals.

And cleaning up after the coffee harvest is important. Coffee farmers who leave a lot of unpicked beans on the ground are inviting an infestation of la broca.

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