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Fighting the berry borer infestation

Published:Thursday | March 8, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Lab technician Jason Clarke shows off a culture of the Beauveria bassiana a fungus which has been successfully used in countries such as El Salvador to control the coffee berry borer population. - Photos by Christopher Serju

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

THE COFFEE Industry Board (CIB) is stepping up its fight against berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) infestation with the help of a fungus (Beauveria bassiana), a natural enemy of the borer. It has undertaken a pilot project to determine the efficiency of the fungus (which is found locally) in controlling the borer's population, as well as establishing the conditions under which the fungus is most effective.

Laboratory technician Jason Clarke explained that the fungus has been cultured at the CIB's laboratory, where efforts are continuing to increase the amount available. The process starts with sterilised parboiled rice being inoculated with the Beauveria bassania fungus, and this is then placed in an incubator where its growth is monitored over a set period. The rice is, thereafter, transferred to grow bags in a 'cool room', and when there is sufficient quantity it is removed from the bag and stored on sterilised brown paper (still in the cool room) and left to drain for 10 days.

The final dried product is then packaged in 350-gram bags which are taken to the farms where the rice is removed by washing in water at a ratio of five grams of the fungus to one litre. Using a spray pan or mist blower, the solution is then applied to the coffee trees.

The CIB's Advisory Council manager, Louis Campbell, shared with AgroGleaner how this biological control method works.

How it works

Said he: "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 told AgroGleaner that the current unprecedented infestation is due to the dependence of many farmers on the use of Endosulphan (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.

Struggling to get back

Now that Thiodan has been banned in Jamaica, some of these farmers are struggling to get back to basics in terms of these strategies.

In recognition of this the CIB has already conducted six re-sensitisation meetings with farmers in the Blue Mountains - two each in Portland, St Thomas and St Andrew. The project, which will continue with lowland coffee farmers, is critical to the 'Good Agriculture Practice' approach started by the CIB in 2001. It is built around cost-effective agro-ecologically friendly management strategies.

Campbell summed up the board's approach: "We are working towards improving coffee quality by working with our stakeholders to provide a safe and secure product that meets international standards."