Pilot Project to Reduce Potato Defect

Contact name: Susie Spindler
Email: susies@cupofexcellence.org
Phone: 406.542.3509
Project URL: www.allianceforcoffeeexcellence.org
Organization Name: Alliance for Coffee Excellence

Project: Pilot Project to reduce potato defect
Location: Rwanda
Projected Impact: This is at yet undetermined

Project Description
Rwanda farmers copyAny buyer of specialty coffee knows the distress that is caused when a spectacular coffee ends up with a potato cup. This defect, which is prevalent around the Great Lakes of Africa, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, part of Tanzania, and Kenya, has become an increasingly insidious problem that is causing long time buyers to abandon coffees that they once cherished, and it is causing farmers in these regions to lose production and millions of dollars in premiums. The 2013 Cup of Excellence in Rwanda and Burundi eliminated almost 65 percent of the entries for potato, some of which had gotten to the final round and some were scoring in the mid 90s. It was devastating to the cuppers and to the farmers.

Extensive research has been ongoing and multiple dollars has been spent with not much practical direction of how to solve the problem at the farm level. While the staff of ACE does not purport to be scientists, it was obvious that we needed to get involved.

Working with Global Knowledge Initiative, ACE offered a challenge prize of up to $20,000 to fund any pilot study that would help further understand what actions could be taken to help prevent and reduce potato defect. We then asked our members to provide the funds, and they did, either in small amounts or large amounts.

There were several proposals that came in all vetted by a technical team, but the one that ACE chose is the most farmer practical and will be a test on the effects of pruning, standard insecticides, and pyrethrum, an organic insecticide made from certain flowering plants. It is a widely held belief that the antestia bug, which is a member of the stinkbug family, either directly or indirectly, causes this defect.

ACE and the Rwanda Agricultural Board will start out with a baseline cupping in 2014 to create some comparable statistics for the 2015 test. Potato is so random that it is hard to accurately predict its prevalence in any given lot of coffee.

Lab tests will be conducted on the antestia bug to determine the correct formulas to be examined for both the conventional and the pyrethroids insecticides. Once this is complete, the farms of Cooperative de Caféiculteurs de Musaza – COCAMU will be divided up into test plots. These test plots include: 1. Control, 2. Pruning only, 3. Conventional insecticides and pruning, 4. Conventional insecticides and no pruning, 5. pyrethroids and pruning, 6. pyrethroids and no pruning.

The cooperative will separate the coffees from each of these six test areas. After the samples are processed, the samples will be cupped and assessed for the percentage of potato defect. The pilot hopes to determine which method – if any – has the greatest positive impact on reducing the potato defect. Once these results are known, they will shared.

Who Will Benefit from this Project?
While this small pilot will not reduce potato defect overall, its results will be used to fuel a much larger study that could eventually impact hundreds of thousands of small farmers. It will also aid those in the specialty coffee industry that want to buy the Rwanda and Burundi coffees, but do not dare to purchase it now because the risk of potato is too great.

What You Can Do to Help
There are still several very useful pilot projects that were left unfunded that could provide information about the nature of potato defect. For example, whether it is also in the cherry and at what stage of ripening and whether the bugs could be trapped in a manner similar to Broca traps.

For interested companies that wish to donate to the scientific effort, please go directly to the ACE website listed at the top of this page and click on the “donate now” button and choose quality projects.

Keeping track of the incidence of potato will prove very useful to determine if there is a microclimate or location that is more prone to the potato defect. We hope to have a page or a website for buyers in the year 2015 to input information about when they find the potato defect, in what coffee, and at what percentage.

If you know of anyone who is also doing potato defect research, please let us know so that we can share these results with them as well. The potato problem is huge, and it will take a huge effort to help solve it. However, maybe by all of us working together we can not only improve the livelihoods of these farmers, but also find spectacular coffees to sell.

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