Coffee in PNG, the country’s number one industry, is completely unique because it is free from the biggest insect coffee pest in the world: a small beetle called the coffee berry borer (CBB). Except for PNG, every coffee growing nation in the world is affected by CBB. Every year, the beetle causes $500 million USD in damages across the world. The pest is especially threatening because of its size. It is just 1.5 millimeters, small enough to crawl through the eye of a sewing needle. Even worse, there are dozens of beetles that look just like it. The difficulty in identifying CBB is one reason it has spread from its native home in Africa to all other coffee growing countries.
The Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) of PNG is committed to keeping PNG free of the coffee berry borer. CIC is not simply hoping the beetle won’t show up in PNG. However, as the coffee industry grows more profitable in PNG, it becomes more likely that CBB will show up. CIC wants to make sure that CBB can be identified so that it can be eliminated before it spreads.
The organization has just completed developing a high-tech laboratory for identifying the coffee berry borer using DNA methods. With support from the government of PNG through the Public Investment Program, dedicated staff at CIC, and cooperation with the University of Florida in the United States, the lab has seen its completion and processed its first specimens this week.
“The lab is a great pride for PNG” says Dr. Nelson Simbiken, Acting Chief Scientist and Team Leader in Integrated Farming Systems and Principal Entomologist officer at CIC. “The completion of this lab means that PNG is becoming a world leader in the coffee industry, and that we are in control of our future.”
The lab is dedicated to rapid identification of CBB, but the lab has great potential for other diverse projects in the future. CIC intends to use the new DNA analysis tools to improve their coffee breeding techniques, increase coffee productivity in PNG, and identify any plant pest, not just those on coffee.
CIC’s Kingsten Okka trying out the thermo-cycler for PCR-DNA replication.