A flying beetle in India threatens to push up latte prices

Jun 24 2014, 13:51 IST
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India's coffee crop could fall to its lowest in 17 years when the harvest starts in October, pushing up global prices  that are already rallying due to drought in top exporter Brazil. (Photo: Reuters) India's coffee crop could fall to its lowest in 17 years when the harvest starts in October, pushing up global prices that are already rallying due to drought in top exporter Brazil. (Photo: Reuters)
SummaryThe bushes have to be destroyed to prevent the tiny winged creature from threatening Bopanna's entire crop of arabica coffee.

It's 10 o'clock in the morning and a dozen workers are uprooting coffee plants, piling them in the corner of a field at M.G. Bopanna's plantation in southern India where they lie ready to be burned.

The plants are bursting with green cherries but inside their hard bark lurk destructive white stem borer beetles. The bushes have to be destroyed to prevent the tiny winged creature from threatening Bopanna's entire crop of arabica coffee.

The beetle, which bores through plants' bark and feeds on their stems, is thriving this year due to unusually warm weather and scant rains in arabica growing areas in India, the world's sixth biggest coffee producer.

If the hot spell continues and the pest continues to spread, India's coffee crop could fall to its lowest in 17 years when the harvest starts in October, pushing up global prices that are already rallying due to drought in top exporter Brazil.

The damage caused by the beetles is so severe that Bopanna has hired an excavator to uproot affected bushes on his 63 acre plantation at the hill station in the tropical forest of the Western Ghats, west of high-tech hub Bangalore.

"Every time we think we have uprooted all the infected plants, then after a few weeks we find more," says Bopanna, 69, who has tended the plantation bought by his father for nearly four decades.

"Earlier whenever there was an outbreak, we used to uproot five to 10 plants per acre. This year I have uprooted more than 200 plants per acre," he said.

There is no effective pesticide to control white stem borers, so the state-run Coffee Board advises farmers to uproot and burn infested plants to limit their spread.

"You may take all precautions, but if your neighbour is lethargic then white stem borers will fly from your neighbour's plantation," said N. Bose Mandanna, a grower from Madikeri who has removed all affected plants from his 34 acre plantation, five kilometres west of Bopanna's field.

SCANT RAIN

In most years heavy rainfalls and low temperatures restrict the spread of the white stem borer. But this year southern Karnataka state's Kodagu and Chikmagalur districts, which account for two-third of India's total coffee production, have received half the usual rainfall since the start of monsoon season on June 1.

The state run weather department said earlier this month that rainfall in July and August is expected to remain below average.

"The pest infestation will rise quickly if

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