12 October 2011

East Africa: Climate Change Could Spread Major Coffee Pest

Nairobi — Coffee production in parts of East Africa and South America could suffer as climate change drives up the numbers and distribution of a key pest, according to research.

Scientists from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya say their study provides the first global maps of the coffee berry borer's distribution.

The research, published in PLoS ONE last month (14 September), forecasts that, by 2050, the conditions in southwest Ethiopia, known for the highly valued Arabica coffee species, will be much more suitable for the pest.

And some coffee-growing countries, especially those in Eastern Africa such as Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, will see production decrease by up to ten per cent compared with a scenario without climate change.

Farmers seeking good conditions in which to grow Arabica in these countries will have to move to higher altitudes - an approach that would lead them into competition from increasing population pressure and the need to use arable land to grow food.

Additionally, the soil conditions found in higher altitude areas might not be suitable for coffee production.

Juliana Jaramillo, lead author and researcher at icipe, declined to be interviewed about the study.

Africano Kangire, head of the Coffee Research Centre (COREC) in Uganda, said global warming was of major concern to the coffee industry globally, and other coffee varieties are also under threat.

"The study is of immense significance as earlier studies estimate that nine per cent of Uganda's total Robusta coffee annual potential output is lost to the coffee borer pest."

The map can guide farmers in adopting adaptation strategies, Kangire added.

Peter Laderach, researcher and climate change scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), said the coffee berry borer may not be the only pest that coffee farmers will have to tackle as the climate changes, as scientists have yet to model the impact on other pests.

To control the effect of the coffee berry borer, Laderach suggested that farmers embrace the practice of growing coffee under the shade of larger trees to cool plantations and make conditions more favourable for the pest's predators.

Kangire also encouraged coffee farmers to intercrop their plants with bananas - which is known to boost coffee yields - to reduce the impact of the borer.

He added that researchers are now breeding Robusta coffee to be drought tolerant and will also investigate pest tolerance and resistance.

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