Bee­tles high on cof­fee

Er­ratic weather is fu­elling the growth of a pest which de­stroys Ara­bica cof­fee. In the ab­sence of effective pest man­age­ment, In­dia's cof­fee pro­duc­tion is at stake

Down to Earth - - SPECIAL REPORT - S GIRIJASHANKAR

ARA­BICA COF­FEE plants in the Western Ghats are fac­ing a se­vere threat from a pest called white stem borer (wsb). The threat is par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing in Chik­ma­galur, Kodagu and Has­san dis­tricts of Kar­nataka (see ‘Bug bites cof­fee hub’on p23).

Mem­ber of the Cof­fee Board of In­dia and for­mer chair­per­son of the Kar­nataka Grow­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion N K Pradeep says around 40 per cent of fruit-yield­ing plants have been lost in the cof­fee-pro­duc­ing south­ern states due to wsb this year.

Ara­bica is the prin­ci­pal host of wsb, or Xy­lotrechus quadripes, but the bee­tle threat­ens other plants as well.The men­ace is not new in Ara­bica-grow­ing re­gions such as Africa and In­dia where wsb has been present for more than 100 years. But change in weather pat­tern has started to fuel its growth. Ac­cord­ing to A S Shankare Gowda, cof­fee planter and for­mer chair­per­son of Kar­nataka Planters’ As­so­ci­a­tion, global warm­ing and er­ratic mon­soon make the tem­per­a­ture

fluc­tu­ate. As a re­sult, wsb which thrives in hot weather, be­comes ac­tive (see ‘Tun­nel­ing through Ara­bica’ on p23).

Ut­tam Gowda, cof­fee planter based in Chik­ma­galur, says the mon­soon has been er­ratic for about a decade. This year too, cof­fee-grow­ing ar­eas re­ceived rain­fall in Fe­bru­ary, fol­lowed by a dry spell of two weeks dur­ing which the temperatures rose. This led to the in­fes­ta­tion. Ear­lier, rain­fall would start only in March end, he says.

No effective pes­ti­cide

Ear­lier, the planters were us­ing pes­ti­cides such as gy­maxin or byphe­nol hexa chlo­ride to con­trol wsb. But th­ese have been banned world­wide. Planters say now there are no effective pes­ti­cides to treat wsb. They deal with the pest by spray­ing lime, with com­mer­cial ad­he­sives as the bind­ing agent, on plant stems. An­other pes­ti­cide used is Chlor­pyri­fos. But th­ese mea­sures have not proved very effective, say planters.The cof­fee board has rec­om­mended that cof­fee grow­ers should use pheromone traps to catch the bee­tles. But planters say this bio-con­trol mech­a­nism is also in­ef­fec­tive.

The cof­fee board has also sug­gested a preventive mea­sure. It says the in­fested es­tates should main­tain a two-tier sys­tem of shade—an up­per level of mixed species of per­ma­nent shade trees and a lower level of tem­po­rary shade trees. Th­ese should be main­tained in such a way that the cof­fee plant is not ex­posed to the sun as the pest be­comes ac­tive un­der sun­light.

Once a plant is in­fested, de­stroy­ing it is the only way to en­sure the pest is re­moved. Ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists at Chik­ma­galur-based Cen­tral Cof­fee Re­search In­sti­tute (ccri), the coun­try’s pre­mium in­sti­tute for cof­fee re­search, wsb-in­fested plants should be up­rooted be­fore the pests come out in or­der to pre­vent them from lay­ing eggs. Even the up­rooted plant should be burned or trans­ported to ur­ban ar­eas for use as fu­el­wood.

Having run out of op­tions, cof­fee planters have started up­root­ing in­fested plants, says Shankare Gowda. This will have

a dis­as­trous ef­fect on the pro­duc­tion next year. Ac­cord­ing to him, there is no per­ma­nent rem­edy for this men­ace. In Sri Lanka when Ara­bica cof­fee plan­ta­tions were in­fested by wsb, they had to be con­verted into tea gar­dens, he says and adds that planters in Tamil Nadu have started plant­ing Ro­busta cof­fee in­stead of Ara­bica.

Pest in­fes­ta­tion would ad­versely af­fect the sta­tus of the highly val­ued In­dian Ara­bica cof­fee. Be­ing cul­ti­vated un­der shade, Ara­bica helps sus­tain the ecosys­tem and is known as an eco-friendly va­ri­ety.

Stem-wrap­ping method

Ac­cord­ing to Pradeep Ken­jige ,chief of Café Cof­fee Day’s re­search and devel­op­ment wing, wsb can be con­trolled by the stem-wrap­ping method. Sev­eral field tri­als on stem wrap­ping have also been con­ducted by ccri, he says.

Ken­jige says the method in­volves com­plete wrap­ping of the main stem and the thick pri­maries with dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als, such as poly­thene, to pre­vent the pest from lay­ing eggs. He quotes a field trial done by ccri on 480 plants at Chet­talli in Kodagu district. The test found that wrap­ping saved plants from in­fes­ta­tion for more than three years and did not have any ad­verse ef­fect on their pro­duc­tiv­ity.

The study rec­om­mended that fer­tiliser bags should be used as the wrap­ping ma­te­rial be­cause they pre­vent ac­cu­mu­la­tion of mois­ture. Ken­jige says the ex­pen­di­ture required for this work is around 13,480

` per 0.4 hectare.

How­ever, N K Pradeep is of the view that the wrap­ping method is labour-in­ten­sive and im­prac­ti­cal. He says lack of re­search is the rea­son the prob­lem reached such pro­por­tions. Ac­cord­ing to him, the cof­fee board needs to en­cour­age re­search on wsb.

N Ke­shava­murthy, cof­fee grower in Chik­ma­galur, says cof­fee rates are high in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket but farm­ers in In­dia are los­ing their plants. He say ccri is not show­ing in­ter­est in con­trol­ling the pest. Planters also want the cof­fee board to in­crease the sub­sidy for re­plant­ing in pest-in­fested ar­eas. They say the sanc­tioned amount should be in­creased to at least 1.75

` lakh per hectare.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: S GIRIJASHANKAR

Farm­ers are up­root­ing and burn­ing white stem borer-in­fested plants to pre­vent the pest from lay­ing more eggs

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