Today we got to visit the National Coffee Institution of Costa Rica also known as ICAFE. All members of the coffee supply chain (growers, millers, roasters, exporters, etc.) have to register with ICAFE who in turn makes sure that all government regulations regarding the coffee trade are met. ICAFE also works on researching new methods to prevent disease, control pests, and grow the best possible coffee. All findings as well as any formulas created are given the farmers free of charge. Because of this, ICAFE is constantly developing cutting-edge technologies to improve coffee.
One example of this technology are biological controllers. A biological controller is a good fungus used to fight off bad fungus that may infect a coffee plant. These are used by farmers who grow organic coffee so they don’t have to use chemical controllers. Another example of the research done by ICAFE is testing soil samples. In their laboratorio químico (chemistry laboratory), researchers test the pH of soil samples from all over the country and recommend the best treatment to keep the pH at the desired level (~5.5). They also test the levels of certain elements such as oxygen and nitrogen. This is to ensure that the coffee plants are receiving the best growing conditions possible. ICAFE also does research on the coffee plant itself. One example of this is the cloning of plants. When researchers find a coffee plant that possesses a unique trait (such as immunity to a certain disease), they will clone the plant to create more with that trait. These technologies and research provide coffee growers with the knowledge and tools to grow the best possible coffee.
A coffee farmer would seek help from ICAFE when they are faced with a disease that is affecting a large portion of their crop and destroying their harvest thus also hurting their profits. ICAFE will then provide them with knowledge through their research and also with the correct controller or pesticide to help defend the coffee plants.
Typically, the coffee growers who ask for help from ICAFE are small farmers. Large plantations aren’t as keen to collaborate with ICAFE. This is because they usually have money to fund their own research. They also want to keep their methods to themselves because they believe their way is better than everyone else’s. Large growers tend to not rely on ICAFE’s support when growing their coffee.