Distinguished experts and FAO colleagues:
On behalf of the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Jacques Diouf, and on my own behalf, I have the honour and pleasure to welcome you to Bangkok for the Expert consultation on the control of coconut beetle outbreaks in APPPC member countries. I am delighted that as many as 14 representatives from 10 countries, namely Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam; two international experts from Fiji and Maldives; and FAO technical officers are participating in this important consultation.
The main objective of this consultation is to exchange experiences and lessons learned among member countries of the Asia-Pacific Plant Protection Commission (APPPC) that are facing the outbreaks as well as discussion on strategy of the control.
Coconut is an important source of food, fuel and wood for people living in the tropics. In recent times, with increased global travels, swaying coconut palms symbolizes exotic holidays and indeed tourism is a very important source of income for many tropical countries. However, the coconut palm is now under threat from an invasive pest that has moved from its centre of origin in Indonesia to other parts of the tropics and sub-tropics where it did not exist before. In its native country, this insect is often under natural biological control. When it spreads to another country, usually this insect arrives without its natural enemies and is able to multiply in large numbers unchecked. Besides reducing production or often killing palms, insect pests could possibly affect tourism as such symbols that foreign tourists seek are destroyed.
The insect that is of much concern is the coconut beetle that has spread to several countries, including Thailand. Such an introduction has affected the livelihood of people who depend on their livelihood on agriculture and tourism. Often, it is unsustainable to rely on chemical insecticides to reach the pest especially when tall palms are involved. In the past, whenever the coconut beetle arrived in a new country in the Pacific, the populations were successfully controlled by introducing effective parasitic insects that kill the pest. This ecologically sound approach does little harm to the environment and helps restore the balance that makes coconut a part of the ecosystem. In the last three years, the coconut beetle is on the march again and this is probably due to frequent air travels between countries. Despite plant quarantine measures, invasive pests do get into the countries undetected. When this happens, it is important for the countries affected or at risk of infection, to work together. In this respect, FAO stands ready to facilitate this cooperation and provide technical assistance to build capacity to tackle this invasive insect.
This approach is particularly important, for FAO has designated 2004 as the year of Biodiversity for food security. The ecologically sound approach fits in very well with the theme for protection of biodiversity, especially agro-biodiversity. FAO recognizes the problems of invasive species and indeed, in a biological control approach, we have put forth specific guidelines to ensure successful and specific action of introduced species to control the invader pest. FAO looks forward to the concurrence of member countries to implement this code of conduct for the importation of the beneficial organisms. I am delighted to learn that as part of this expert consultation, the participants from all ten APPPC countries will discuss this code of conduct. To enhance effective plant quarantine that will support successful introduction of beneficial organisms, FAO places much interest into the capacity building of expertise to handle classical biological control.
In the past, this coconut beetle has been successfully controlled by the introduction of biological control agents that attack only the coconut beetle. Successful biological control has been reported from Solomon Islands, French Polynesia and Micronesia. In the Asian region, success appears to be in sight in Viet Nam and the experiences in Viet Nam will be shared with participants from other countries in today’s expert consultation. I note that in this consultation, there is an element of Technical Cooperation between Developing countries (TCDC). Viet Nam is helping Lao PDR and Thailand in the biological control of this coconut beetle. This form of cooperation underlines the importance of working together and FAO is pleased to provide the umbrella for such collaboration.
Experts and participants,
I hope that the expert consultation is not focused only on the biological control of just this one pest. Indeed, I am confident that this experience will galvanize the member countries to consider working together in a regional programme to prepare for the possible invasion of other pests and on other crops too. FAO has been successful in developing the IPM Farmer Field School approach to help farmers manage their agro-ecosystem and this outbreak presents a unique opportunity for countries to recommit their agricultural development towards farmer education to sustain rural development and reduce poverty. In this respect, it is hoped that the consultation will come out with recommendations that will assist in a regional activity that will safeguard member countries from sudden and devastative invasion of pests.
I wish you a successful meeting and look forward to receiving the successful outcome of your consultations.