Agriculture
The government has declared the districts of Chikkamagaluru, Hassan and Kodagu ‘pest-affected areas’.

Karnataka, the country’s largest coffee producing state, is fighting a dreadful adversary – a tiny bug capable of extensive destruction. Xylotrechus quadripes, commonly known as ‘coffee white stem borer’, can literally bore through the stems of coffee plants and damage them.

The coffee plantations in the districts of Chikkamagaluru, Hassan and Kodagu have come under constant attack by the coffee white stem borers. But they lack proper measures to control the infestation.

For a state accounting for over 70% of the overall coffee production in the country, this poses a huge threat to its crops and in turn revenues.

To bring the situation under control, the State Government on April 12 issued a notification declaring the three top coffee producting districts as ‘pest-affected areas’ under Section (3) of Karnataka Agricultural Pest and Diseases Act, 1968. This applies for period of 5 years from the date of order.

As per the notification, the movement or removal of any plant, soil or manure, damaged by the white stem borer, from one place to another has been restricted in order to control and prevent the spread of the borer.

No proper steps of prevention

According to Anil Savur, Secretary of the Karnataka Planters Association (KPA), Chikkamagaluru, “Many estates are not taking proper steps of prevention; the notification has been brought out to make it compulsory for growers to adopt necessary control measures.”

He also stated that there is an absence of adequate skilled workers in the field. “Most of the workers are over 50 years old and have retired. The new workforce still calls for more training and practise to excel in the field,” he said.

Loss in Production

According to data released by the Coffee Board of India, production of Arabica coffee in Karnataka has decreased by approximately 28.9% between 2009 and 2017. The data points to a continuous decline in the production of Arabica coffee in the post-blossom estimates for the year 2017-18, especially in the districts of Chikkamagaluru and Kodagu while Hassan contributed the maximum produce out of the three.

With the present impact of the white stem borers, the coffee yield is likely to decrease at a faster rate and quality of the produce will also be inferior in the near future. Apart from the yield, it will also impact export of the high-quality variety of coffee.

Prevention is key

This beetle affects Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee) plantations leading to massive loss and destruction. “The only solution is prevention. You have to trace the borer and destroy them and once it infects the plant, the whole plant has to be uprooted and burned,” said Anil.

If a plant has already been infected, the best method to prevent further transmission or reappearance of the stem borers is by uprooting and burning the infected plants and disinfecting the estates before starting a fresh cycle of cultivation.

Need for newer measures to tackle the pest

The life of coffee plants is generally around 40 to 50 years and planters spend years nurturing them, explained DM Shankar, who works in the coffee plantations in Chikkamgaluru. “And when the pests kill the plants, it feels like losing our own child,” he said.

Apart from economic losses, it also leads to a waste of natural resources, time and energy. Planters will have to wait for at least 10 years for newer coffee plants to mature and bear fruits.

Talking about the widespread transmission of the coffee white stem borer, Shankar mentioned that it is due to the increased temperatures, due to global warming, that leads to faster multiplication of the beetles.

“New methods are needed to be invented to stop the attack of the white stem borers as the few preventive steps available right now are not enough to save the crop. The Arabica coffee is a very high-quality variety of coffee and India is lucky to have it, it needs to be protected,” he said requesting the Karnataka Government and Central Coffee Research Institute.