Coffee—riches and sorrows

How diseases and pests contributed to science, technology and innovation at the turn of the twentieth century in São Paulo, Brazil


  • Cristiana Loureiro de Mendonça Couto Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo
  • Ana Maria Alfonso-Goldfarb Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo


Coffee, Brazil, nineteenth century, science and technology, microbiology, entomology


Coffee became one of the main sources of wealth in Brazil, the state of São Paulo in particular, from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards. However, several problems threatened production, including diseases—mainly infectious—which decimated the workforce, and devastated agricultural pests. In the present study we argue that these factors were some of the triggers for the development of science and technology in Brazil. The local investigators made thorough use of innovations developed abroad, and also sought to create local conditions to overcome scientific and technological challenges. In some relevant cases they contributed to global efforts to eradicate epidemics and pests, and thus to the emergent microbiology and entomology. The case of the coffee industry in São Paulo clearly illustrates aspects of the global-local integration of science, technology and innovation, and of the dynamics of the transit of knowledge.