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2 Dangerous Threats to Hawai‘i’s Coffee Industry

What could be the end of coffee in Hawai‘i?



1. Fraud

Tom Greenwell of Greenwell Farms in Kona thinks fraud in coffee is the No. 1 challenge for Hawai‘i coffee. He’s not talking about 10-percent Kona pretending to be 100-percent: He’s talking about flat-out lying about the origins of coffee labeled Kona. “You can find coffee [labeled 100-percent Kona] all over O‘ahu that sells for $6 for 7 ounces,” he says. Given labor costs, he calculates that “you can’t do that with Kona anymore. It’s impossible. So it’s either coffee that doesn’t meet the Kona standards (and can’t legally be labeled Kona). Or it’s coffee from somewhere else. I don’t care if it’s great coffee. Don’t call it Kona if it’s not Kona.”


“We have laws. I’m tired of laws. I will not be part of another law unless we start enforcing laws.”


2. Coffee borer beetle

The tiny coffee berry borer beetle, a long-time menace to coffee growers worldwide, wasn’t found on the Big Island until 2010. Females gnaw into coffee berries and lay eggs there. The larvae grow to maturity inside the berry, feasting on the bean and ruining it. Several generations of beetle can live inside a single coffee berry, safe from pesticides that farmers use to try to zap them.


Editor’s Note: This article in our December issue incorrectly referred to the status of coffee leaf rust, a fungal disease plaguing coffee farms around the world, in Hawai‘i. Leaf rust has not been found in Hawai‘i.


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Honolulu Magazine June 2020
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