Red beetle threatens the global production of dates and coconuts
A little red beetle that devastates palm is rapidly spreading around the
world and threatens the production of dates and coconuts, unless we manage to stop its advance.
Scientists, experts in pest control, agricultural ministers and representatives of farmers participating in a three-day meeting that began today at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome will discuss and define a plan for international action to stop the spread of the red palm weevil. The pest attacks the date palms and coconut trees, as well as ornamental palms found in many European cities.
Over the past three decades, the weevil has spread rapidly through the Middle East and North Africa, affecting almost the entire region. It has already been detected in more than 60 countries including France, Greece, Italy, Spain and parts of the Caribbean and Central America.
“The red palm weevil is the most dangerous threat to date palms,” stated the Deputy Director General of FAO and Regional Representative for the Middle East and North Africa, Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, at the meeting’s opening session. “Insufficient implementation of phytosanitary standards, the lack of an effective preventive strategy, and inadequate monitoring of response measures explain the failure to stop the plague so far,” he added.
The FAO, in collaboration with the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), organized the Scientific Consultation and High Level Meeting on the red palm weevil.
“The Mediterranean area is home to a rich biodiversity of plant species that must be protected because of social, economic, and environmental reasons. Therefore, it’s essential to have a sustainable strategy to protect the entire region from phytosanitary threats, “said Cosimo Lacirignola, the Secretary General of CIHEAM.
An invisible killer
The red palm weevil causes millions of dollars in economic damage annually, either by the loss of production or the costs of combating the plague. Each year, the Gulf countries and the Middle East lose 8 million US dollars removing heavily infested trees. The combined cost of fighting the plague, removing and replacing infested palms, and loss of profits caused by it in Italy, Spain, and France amounted to nearly 90 million euro in 2013. This cost is expected to increase to 200 million euro by 2023 if the area doesn’t apply a strict containment program.
Part of the problem is that the red palm weevil is extremely difficult to detect in the early stages of an infestation, as there are very few visible external signs that the pest has taken over a tree: the insects remain hidden from view for almost 80 percent of their lifecycle. When it comes to tall palm species, the infestation is even more difficult to detect as the tree top is very high, and once the pest has been installed, it is too late to save them.
Palm trees are an important resource for many communities in the Middle East and North Africa. The dates have been a staple food for centuries there, and they are now an important cash crop, as the area produces more than seven million tons of this product. In total, there are currently about 100 million date palms, 60 percent of which are in Arab countries. The red palm weevil attacks young and soft trees, which are no more than 20 years old. About half of the 100 million palms match this criteria and are therefore vulnerable.
Palm trees are also vital to maintain the culture system of oases, which allow other productive trees and plants to grow under the palm’s canopy. If the pest is not stopped, the production will be strongly affected, which could lead to an economic migration of communities living in the urban oases.
Scientific Consultation, and High Level Meetings on the red palm weevil, focus on containing the spread of the pest. The attendees will share the progress in integrated pest control, such as the selective and reduced use of insecticides and bio-pesticides, the use of highly sensitive and low cost microphones that can detect the larvae feeding inside the trees, pheromone-based traps, drones, remote sensing, and sniffer dogs. On Friday’s session, government representatives will discuss and adopt a multi-disciplinary and multi-regional strategy that includes effective implementation of cross-border phytosanitary standards.
Publication date: 4/3/2017