Hawaiʻi launch of wasp to fight damaging coffee borer beetle getting closer
The statewide release of a small wasp to battle the devastating coffee berry borer beetle — which causes millions in Hawai’i coffee crop damage — moved another step closer to taking flight.
The coffee berry borer beetle is the most serious pest of coffee farms and is estimated to cause more than $500 million in damage around the world. The current crop losses of coffee due to the coffee berry borer infestation in Hawai’i is estimated at $7.7 million as of 2019.
On Maui, the beetle has caused a “tremendous amount of damage,” causing some farms to abandon their orchards completely, according to Gerald M. Ross, Maui Coffee Association president.
“We are seeing high infestation rates on our farm, which has caused 30 percent reduction in yield and requires extensive hand sorting in parchment stage to maintain bean quality prior to the arrival of [the beetle],” he said in a letter supporting the plan. “It is a desperate state.”
Proposed by the University of Hawai’i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the project’s state-mandated environmental study on the wasp release received a “Finding of No Significant Impact,” according to the state Office of Planning and Sustainable Development, Environmental Review Program “The Environmental Notice,” which was published on Feb. 23.
The public has 30 days from when the notice was published to challenge the determination in environmental court or the plan moves ahead.
Coffee, which was imported to Hawai’i in the 19th century, is a significant part of post-contact agricultural history, the study said. There are almost 1,500 coffee farmers in the state and the majority of commercial growers are small-hold, operating less than five acres of land.
First reported on the Big Island in 2010, the beetle soon infiltrated coffee farms throughout the state. It was reported on O‘ahu in 2014, Maui in 2016, Kaua‘i in 2020 and Lāna’i in 2020.
State and federal agencies have been cooperating on biocontrol activities to minimize the threat of invasive pests in Hawaii’s natural environment over many years, the study said. And if left uncontrolled, the coffee berry borer can infest more than 90% of coffee berries.
The wasp as a beetle biocontrol agent has been released in at least 12 countries to date. The beetle is parasitized by the wasp, called P. coffea, and the beetle dies within 15 days.
Other permits and approvals required must come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture.
The environmental assessment is mandated by state law due to the project’s proposed use of state lands and state funds. To view the final environmental assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact, view “The Environmental Notice.”