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Coconut Rhino Beetle, a growing threat

Coconut Rhino Beetle, a growing threat

Wednesday 18 January 2017
 
There is a growing threat for the coconut and palm tree industry if the spread of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle intensifies and remains untreated. Already the impacts are visible and felt by farms through the destruction of coconut and palm oil trees in Guadalcanal.
This was raised at the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Committee (CRBC), a committee formed to monitor and control the spread of the beetle.
Samantha Maeke, the Export Industry Development Officer from the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SICCI) and a member of the CRBC, says there are alarming indications.
Coconut and oil palm are critical resources for the Solomon Islands economy – both commercially and at a subsistence level. Many farmers and families rely on these commodities for employment, income generation and basic survival. 
The country could face a national crisis given the severity of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle, the committee concluded.   
The beetle attack has already affected some farms and plantations with the loss of production and supply of coconut and oil palm.
Evidence in other countries such as Guam and Samoa shows that the beetle has affected coconut plantations. In Hawaii it was declared a pest emergency.
The CRBC fears that the continued rampage of the beetle will affect other fruit crops such as bananas and pineapples.
Already it has affected oil palms at the Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Limited (GPPOL). If untreated, it will have a huge impact on the production of oil palm and the sustainability of the industry.
Putting into perspective the risks are overwhelming, says SICCI CEO Dennis Meone.
“At the micro level – communities would lose their economic ability, food and as well as their way of life. At the macro level, it can result in the entire loss of both the coconut and palm oil industries.
“It is therefore paramount that urgent action has to be undertaken by the government and relevant stakeholders.”
The CRBC meeting indicates that public-private partnership is the best approach to ensure that the beetle pest is properly contained and managed to reduce and lessen the impacts on both industries.
Mr Meone acknowledged the efforts undertaken by the committee in dealing with the issue but highlighted that there is a pressing need for more government support to fast-track the remedial approaches the CRBC has adopted.
Copra and coconut oil exports recorded USD95 million in the first three quarters of 2016, according to data from the Central Bank of Solomon Islands; USD31 million in the first quarter, USD29 million in the second quarter and bulked up to USD35 million in the third.
“Agriculture has always been the backbone of the country and if it is to continue to support economic growth and development, we must continue to support the sector to grow, diversify and reach its full potential,” said Meone.
“In this case we must quickly resolve and contain the spread of the beetle which is threatening the entire coconut and oil palm industry.”
The Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle was first reported in Honiara in 2012 and has since spread further into Guadalcanal as far west as Visale in Northwest Guadalcanal and recently affecting oil palms at GPPOL in Northeast Guadalcanal.
There are also reports of the beetle reaching provinces Malaita, Isabel, Western and Choiseul.
The biggest challenge facing the CRBC is the lack of resources and funding to carry out assessments and treatments. It is understood that the committee has rally resources from within the committee members.
External assistance is also provided by FAO and SPC.
The CRBC is made up of the Coconut Industry Working Group, SICCI, Commodities Export Marketing Authority (CEMA), GPPOL, Rural Development Program (RDP) and the Biosecurity SI division from the Ministry of Agriculture.
SICCI is a member of the industry working group.