Five thousand households in the SHEFA Province could be affected if communities and villages around Efate do not take proactive measures to help the Department of Agriculture eradicate the spread of Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB).
The Biosecurity Office has reported an outbreak of CRB, a rare type of beetle that has been found on Efate and could pose a threat to coconut trees and coconut plantations. This rare Pacific beetle was also found in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Moses Amos in a press conference this morning told the media that coconut trees could be at high risk if we do not act now and take necessary steps to stop the spread of CRB.
“This is a very dangerous pest that attacks and feeds on the fronds and leaves of a coconut tree, even to the extent of destroying young coconut fruits and if we don’t mobilize our communities to take action to stop and eradicate the spread of this pest, we may lose our coconut trees,” he stressed.
DG Amos calls on the SHEFA Provincial authority, the Area Councils, community leaders, chiefs and the people of Efate and offshore islands to work together with the Department of Agriculture to help minimize the spread of this insect before they destroy coconut plantations and spread to other areas.
“This is a very dangerous pest and because of its seriousness, we must make it everybody’s business to help eradicate them before they multiply and grow out of hand,” he stressed.
The Coconut Production Sector for the country is estimated at around 195 VT (Agriculture Census 2007). Vanuatu farmers rely heavily on coconut farming where more households rely on coconut with 5,091 households compared to Kava with 1,257 (Agriculture census).
According to the Principal Biosecurity Officer of the Department of Biosecurity, Ms Touasi Tiwok, CRP was first sighted in Mangaliliu on 20th May and while her office could not confirm how the pests entered the island of Efate, it is believed they may have entered the country through the yachts.
“The Biosecurity office is monitoring movements of people who came through yachts and other entry points to avoid further spread of this insect,” she said.
Ms Tiwok said during the first sighting of the CRB, Biosecurity officers have collected specimens from the affected area and sent images to SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community) Plant Health Team who confirmed the morphology of beetles as Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle and recommended the specimens be sent to New Zealand where it was later confirmed on 24th May by the NZ Landcare Research LAB to be of the same species.
She said Biosecurity Vanuatu has also engaged the technical expertise of the Pacific Community in providing both the technical experts as well as the in-country support to assist the country with surveillance and emergency response.
As an emergency response Biosecurity Vanuatu has established a CRB Response Taskforce Team to manage the CRB Incursion on Efate and prevent its spread to adjacent communities and islands, as well as other provinces (e.g. Sanma, Malampa, Torba, and Penama).
She said Biosecurity Vanuatu sighted significant damage to coconut palms within an approximate 12km radius from the original sighting at Mangaliliu. On 8th June a suspected finding of juvenile beetles was detected near Eton village whose specimens are again being sent to New Zealand Lab for continued identification.
“With this suspected finding at Eton village, it represents a significant range extension,” she stressed.
Her office has been doing the best they can by fully engaging their technical teams for emergency and surveillance response where they have deployed 40 bucket traps with pheromone lure to assist with the surveillance, community awareness activities ongoing at Mangaliliu and other areas to improve community cooperation in detecting and reporting signs of CRB damage, destruction of breeding sites both with the use of chainsaws and burning, and 20 artificial breeding sites deployed to capture adult beetles.
Describing the pest, Ms Tiwok said the difference between CRP and any normal rhinoceros beetle is that it has long orange hairs which can be identified from the normal beetles and it takes around 95 days to grow from eggs to a fully grown size insect. It eats and destroys coconut fronds and leave a V shape on the leaves. It can fly for up to 4 kilometers.
She said her office is awaiting a Council of Ministers decision to release funds of around VT40 million for her office to carry out the eradication program given the seriousness of the outbreak of this pest.
Meanwhile, she is appealing to the market vendors especially women coming from these affected areas and other villages and offshore islands of Efate to ensure they de-husks their coconuts before they bring them to the markets to sell them.
“Coconut husks, coconut seedlings, coconut branches, and even in rotten wood, they form very good breeding grounds for CRB, so if you discover them in these areas, burn them to avoid the spread of the insects,” she stressed.
Both Directors of Agriculture and Livestock emphasized the importance of engaging communities and villages to be involved in the control measures to help eradicate this insect.
“Our communities must be informed of the dangers this insect pose to our coconut trees, we must all cooperate and work together in a collective effort to combat this insect, Pastors need to make announcements on Sabbaths or Sundays to inform our people of the seriousness of this outbreak,” said Director Bong.
Area Secretaries attending the press conference also voice concerns stating the important role of media on the dangers of the outbreak.
The CRB team is advising all communities throughout Shefa as well as nearby islands to restrict the movement of risk materials that can spread CRB from affected areas – these include animal manure for gardens, soil, firewood, coconut husks, palm fronds.
The team also prohibit the movement of coconut husks, sucks of cocoa, coconut seedlings, pandanus fronds, oriental palms, host plants which include cocoa, banana shoots and young pandanus. Source: Ministry of Agriculture