In late March 2017, FAO announced the first major global strategy against the spread of the Red Palm Weevil, a beetle that has been shown to be a real threat to at least 40 species of palm, including date- and coconut-producing varieties, causing severe economic losses worldwide. The trace of this animal reveals itself in the same disheartening picture: armies of barren, empty logs, without leaves, attesting to the disaster, and showing proof of the uncontrollable nature of the pest. The production of dates and coconuts all around the world are considered to be at risk.
"Insufficient implementation of phytosanitary standards, lack of an effective preventive strategy and insufficient monitoring of response measures explain the failure in containing the pest so far", said FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Near East and North Africa, Mr. Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, at the recent meeting held at the organization's Headquarters to deal with the spread of this pest, which concluded with the adoption of an international plan of action to contain the problem.
Human transport, key in the transmission of pests and diseases throughout the world
How does a beetle travel from the Middle East to the Caribbean or Central America? "Biological discharges", which could be understood as the nonconscious release of organisms or microorganisms in an environment of which they are not native, are practically unavoidable in a world where there are 527 million displacements of marine containers each year. In fact, in 2016, FAO reported on the dangerous link between pests and transport, ensuring that "biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five percent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade's worth of natural disasters". However, the current non-regulatory nature of existing prevention measures make it difficult to keep invasive species from spreading.
Plagues and pests in Latin America and the Caribbean
Locusts are considered one of the most dangerous of all migratory pest species in the world, affecting more than 65% of the poorest countries. Bolivia experienced unprecedented episodes of infestation this year, resulting in the loss of 100,000 hectares of maize, sorghum, soybeans, beans, cassava, papaya, banana and citrus. Despite having controlled the spread, the country is bound to coexist with the problem from now on. The Bolivian Minister of Rural Development and Land (DRyT), César Cocarrico, stated in February that the locusts have arrived to stay. "In Argentina the plagues have been present since 1920, practically more than 90 years. You cannot fully exterminate this pest, and therefore we will have to learn to live with it, "he said.
The creation of a "National Locust Prevention and Control Program" in Bolivia is currently underway, and the dialogue between producers and the administration has already started. FAO sent some of its experts to the Andean country in March to work together with national experts on this issue, supporting evaluation, sharing experiences and knowledge, and providing recommendations for the future -both in the short and long term. Sergio Laguna, of FAO Bolivia, says that involving everyone is fundamental to success: "The most important is the participation of producers, community members, associations and municipal governments, the creation of local committees with contact persons should be explored. Local leaders can be identified, trained, recognized and given specific roles and tasks, especially in organizing community monitoring and communication of locust populations."
FAO focuses many of its efforts on disease and pest control. The advance of the Fusarium fungi, or "Panama disease", affecting the banana production on a global scale, is another good example of a serious threat to millions of banana producers and workers in the world. Although all the producing regions suffer from it, the tropical variety found in countries in Asia and Australia has triggered the alarms. The seriousness of the situation has led to the creation of a working group, the Task force on Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4), which involves producers, researchers and policy makers discussing short and long term solutions.
This article is incomplete and has been translated from its original Spanish version. Click here to read it.
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