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$1M USDA Funding to Fight Coffee-ravaging Beetle

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Agriculture is allocating $1 million to fend off a pest that has recently ravaged the Hawaiian coffee industry.

USDA and US Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) announced the initiative on Thursday, which will include research into the genetic makeup of a beetle called the coffee berry borer, in order to discover biological weaknesses that can be exploited.

Native to Central Africa, the coffee berry borer lives, feeds, and reproduces in immature and mature coffee beans. In Hawaii, as much as 80 percent of coffee farms may be infested with the pests, Hirono's office said.

In addition to conducting genetic research on the insect, the USDA project, which is a new arm of the agency's integrated pest management program, will distribute effective treatments to farmers and educate them on the most effective treatment regimes. It also will be charged with disposing infected plants.

The coffee berry borer has inflicted more than $9 million in market losses to Hawaii's Kona coffee industry during the past two years, US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) said in a statement from Hirono's office. Gabbard introduced legislation that authorized funding for the USDA project.

"The economic impact has been deeply felt by coffee farms, most of which are small family farms, and coffee processors are being forced to lay off workers or reduce hours," she added. "The USDA initiative being established in Hawaii will help local coffee growers combat the effects of this invasive and destructive pest."

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