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Feathered Friends

“The finding “is definitely good news for Costa Rican farmers”, says Matthew Johnson, a conservation ecologist at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. He and his colleagues have previously found that birds help to protect the famous Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee crop from the borer beetle, and he is happy to see that Jamaican birds are not alone in their taste for the pest.” Quoted from the Scientific American Sept 5th 2013. It is an interesting yet very overlooked fact that our feathered friends can help with one of the most destructive insects to a coffee farmer’s crops, the Berry Borer Beetle.

Being a result of the crops not being cleaned as soon as needed,and also due to the general Global spread of the Borer Beetle, farmers have been coming up with different ways to battle the bugs. Here are a few ways Coffee Farmers have come up with ways to combat the bugs ranging from fungus to traps, and to the use of our feathered friends.

In Jamaica, a natural fungus has been cultivated by The Coffee Industry Board (CIB) to step up its fight against berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) infestation with the help of a fungus (Beauveria bassiana), a natural enemy of the borer. From the CIB’s Website, how the fungus works is explained by Louis Campbell:  “Once it (Beauveria bassiana) comes in contact with the borer, it affects it by entering through its skin and reproducing itself inside the body of the borer and rendering it incapable of completing its life cycle. “The borer, therefore, is not able to do the amount of damage, since even if it does enter the bean it is not able to go much further – won’t be able to lay any eggs and dies. So the infestation is checked and, very importantly, without the use of any toxic chemicals.” Campbell also notes “The current unprecedented infestation is due to the dependence of many farmers on the use of Endosulfan (also marketed as Thiodan) which has a 90-95 per cent kill rate. For this reason, over the years they neglected proper field sanitation practices such as stripping and burying/burning – depending solely on chemical use.” Thiodan is now banned in Jamaica, leaving the farmers to get back to basics and proper farm maintenance.

There are a wide variety of pesticides, most of which the bugs have become immune to so farmers have begun using traps to catch the beetles. In an article from the University Of Hawaii discusses how they build traps and have been fighting their infestation problem using the following ingredients:

1 plastic bottle (2 Liter)
Knife, scalpel, scissors
Red paint: Pantone 186 C Red, specialty plastic
Lure bottle: LDPE: Low-Density Polyethylene. Fisher Scientific. No.: 2750-9050
Lure solution: mixture of methanol and ethanol (3:1)
Galvanized wire, approx. 12-gauge
Galvanized wire, approx. 24-gauge
Soapy water (unscented): mixture of 4 tablespoons of liquid soap to a gallon of water

These are two pictures of pre-made borer traps that use the same Methanol:ethanol 3:1 ratio to lure the bugs.

However, as your parents always said, let nature take it’s course seems to be effective for some Costa Rican Coffee Farmers. Research in Costa Rica shows that hungry warblers and other birds significantly reduce damage by a devastating coffee pest, the coffee berry borer beetle.  Quoted from the article: “A study found that insectivorous birds cut infestations by the beetle Hypothenemus hampei by about half, saving a medium-sized coffee farm up to US$9,400 over a year’s harvest — roughly equal to Costa Rica’s average per-capita income. The results, published in Ecology Letters, not only offer hope to farmers battling the beetle, but also provide an incentive to protect wildlife habitat: the more forest grew on and near a coffee farm, the more birds the farm had, and the lower its infestation rates were.”

“They found that avian predators did indeed pick off a lot of beetles: in the rainy season — peak time for beetle activity — borer infestation almost doubled when birds were excluded from foraging on coffee shrubs, rising from 4.6% to 8.5%. By analysing bird faeces for beetle DNA, the team identified the yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) and four other species as beetle eaters. Next, the researchers combined data about bird abundance, forest cover and beetle populations from six coffee plantations. They found that beetle-eating birds were most common at sites with lots of stretches of forest nearby, and that beetle infestations were slightly more severe at sites that were not surrounded by abundant forest. Furthermore, many of the avian exterminators were living in small scraps of unprotected woodland, rather than in big nature reserves.”

As we have always had our feathered friends as natural enemies of the Borer Beetle in the Rain Forests of Jamaica it is good to see the rest of the world’s coffee Farmers are seeing the results of having coffee farms use their natural surroundings and let their feathered friends do their thing. Although the birds alone cannot eradicate the Borer population, as you can see the results are beneficial in terms of helping reduce the borer infestation. Since a farm’s productivity means financial livelihood, it is important for each crop to produce as much as possible, especially when we talk about our own Crops in Jamaica, which is already a very low supply with extremely high demand.