by Carolyn Lucas-Zenk
An immediate suspension of green coffee imports into Hawaii to prevent further damage by the coffee berry borer is being sought by the Kona Coffee Farmers Association.
Hawaii Department of Agriculture officials also are preparing a quarantine on green coffee bean transportation from Kona, where the pest was confirmed at 21 sites between Kaloko and Manuka State Park, said Neil Reimer, Hawaii Plant Pest Control Branch chief.
The Advisory Committee on Plants and Animals may consider the quarantine request at a meeting later this month. However, the seven-member committee was struggling to establish a quorum and Lyle Wong, Plant Industry Division administrator, is in China, Reimer said.
If the pest is deemed an “immediate emergency” and the committee passes the recommendation, it will go before the Board of Agriculture for approval and implementation. The 10-member board usually meets the last Tuesday of the month in Honolulu, Reimer said.
A search Wednesday of the Department of Agriculture’s online calendars showed no meetings scheduled in November and December for the Advisory Committee on Plants and Animals or the Board of Agriculture.
Reimer is involved in a Hawaii coffee farm survey to determine the extent of the infestation. As of Oct. 28, the federal and state Departments of Agriculture have surveyed 104 sites statewide. Infestations were only found in the Kona area.
Reimer doesn’t serve on the Advisory Committee on Plants and Animals or the Board of Agriculture. He referred questions regarding the specifics of a quarantine to Plant Quarantine Branch Chief Carol Okada, who could not be reached as of press time.
The state and federal Departments of Agriculture, as well as the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, are researching the beetle’s biology; collecting information from researchers worldwide; researching and developing pest control and management options; conducting traceback investigations to determine the most likely source and pathways of introduction and educating
the public regarding best management practices.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association publicized this week its desire for an immediate suspension of green coffee imports. The association’s board made the decision Oct. 19, shortly after the discovery of the coffee berry borer in Kona.
Native to Africa, the beetle, slightly smaller than a sesame seed, bores into coffee cherry to lay its eggs. The larvae feed upon the coffee bean, reducing the yield and quality of the crop. Because the larvae are inside the seed, it is difficult to control with pesticides, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association said its latest request follows more than five years of requests to the Department of Agriculture to re-examine whether Hawaii’s import laws were sufficiently protecting a heritage crop from infestation by pests prevalent in other coffee-growing regions.
Because of its isolation, Hawaii was one of two places in the world free from the coffee berry borer. Imported green coffee is regularly brought into Kailua-Kona and other places in the state to be mixed with 100 percent Kona to create blends and other coffee mixtures, the association stated.
“Hawaii, unlike other coffee-growing regions, allows imports of green coffee and the only way to stop any further destruction and avoid the even more devastating coffee rust, is to ban green imports immediately,” said Bruce Corker, Kona Coffee Farmers Association president.
Coffee rust, Hemileia vastatrix, is a fungus which begins by destroying coffee leaves and eventually entire farms. It arrives as a microscopic spore.
“That would end coffee cultivation as it has been for the last 182 years in Kona,” Kona coffee farmer Bob Smith said. “Green imports should be immediately banned into Hawaii — if we want to keep our heritage Kona coffee viable.”