A small coffee berry borer emerges from a coffee cherry in the hands of a Kona farmer. (courtesy Hawaii County, 2010)

A small coffee berry borer emerges from a coffee cherry in the hands of a Kona farmer. (courtesy Hawaii County, 2010)

HILO, Hawaii – Bad news for coffee growers in East Hawaii.

The invasive coffee berry borer (CBB) that has devastated Kona coffee farms since its discovery a few years ago has made its way to Hilo. State and university officials have confirmed the beetle has been found on an Amauulu farm.

Although Hilo does not have the worldwide reputation that Kona has for its coffee, it has historically been a viable growing region which recently seemed poised for a comeback. Now, the re-emerging East Hawaii coffee industry faces a new – if not unforeseeable – threat.

The spread of the CBB around the Big Island has been fast. Before the beetle’s arrival, Kona had established itself as region of gourmet coffee on Hawaii Island, while the Ka’u district had made an international name for itself winning big in mainland competitions. But in September 2010, disaster arrived on the island in the form of the invasive coffee berry borer. It was first found in Kona. This small, dark brown beetle no larger than a sesame seed already had a worldwide reputation. Native to Africa, its impact has been felt on the global coffee commodity. The female CBB ruins coffee quality and yield when she burrows into the cherry and lives out its life cycle within the bean. The process renders the coffee worthless.

A coffee quarantine was put into place. Farmers worked hard to come up with a viable solution. By 2011, Kona was facing a dire situation. Unattended, wild coffee was helping the beetle spread through Kona at an alarming rate. South Kona was particularly hard hit.

But there was hope. Farmers won approval from the State Department of Agriculture to import and use a special fungus to control the CBB. By this time, the coffee berry borer had migrated all the way to Pahala in Ka’u, putting a damper on the up and coming Ka’u coffee region.

By the end of the year the verdict was in: the CBB had definite impact on the quality of the coffee crop, according to coffee processors.

Now, as Kona and Ka’u continued their struggle with the CBB, the pest has been found on a coffee farm in Hilo, reigniting concerns over the spread of the beetle.