It seems like every day we're told that coffee is being destroyed slowly, due to climate change, less-than-ideal weather patterns, and other environmental factors. And though it's nice to try and ignore those long-term threats to coffee, it's a little harder to ignore the coffee-destroying beetles that have invaded Brazil this summer. According to Reuters, these so-called berry borer beetles have "surged in an area that grows roughly 40 percent of Brazil's crop, with estimated damage to green coffee ranging from 5 percent to 30 percent after females burrowed into beans to lay their eggs." Some government estimates say that 35 to 40 percent of the crop will fail in the region of Brazil where Arabica beans are grown.
The effects of this beetle infestation on Brazilian coffee are likely to be felt in the United States and other coffee-loving countries. As Thomas Hojo, a coffee grower and owner of Grupo Hojo in Brazil, told the news agency, this infestation will have a negative impact on the quality of beans sold to big companies like Starbucks and Nestlé.
Berry borer beetles have plagued the country's coffee crop in the past. As Ed Yong explains for National Geographic, this beetle, which is only a few millimeters long, bores holes into the coffee seeds, which later become beans, and lays its eggs. When the eggs hatch, they destroy the beans, thereby ruining the crop. The tiny bug has had a major impact on Brazil's coffee economy—as much as $300 million in damages in Brazil alone, writes Yong.
In the past, these berry borer beetles were controlled with a pesticide called endosulfan. It seems that part of the reason for the major increase in bugs this summer has been the ban on endosulfan by Brazil's federal health agency, which has been in place since 2013. One coffee exporter told Reuters that the alternatives to endosulfan are too expensive for the average farmer, as well as less effective; this is part of the reason this beetle situation is spiraling out of control.
The solution to this problem doesn't seem to be bringing back endosulfan, though. The pesticide is being phased out globally because it's a persistent organic pollutant, meaning it's a toxic chemical that can last in the environment for a long time with potentially disastrous effects to human and environmental health—especially to those who regularly apply it to crops. It is being phased out in the United States and the European Union, as well.
Since the only two options seem to be let the problem resolve itself or nuke the plants with pesticide, maybe the only solution is to start preparing for a world without coffee, after all.