Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Helping nature do its work - biological control of Coconut Hispine Beetle in Cambodia

Cambodia, 12 Sep 2005 -- Phnom Penh, 12 September 2005 - FAO, with financial support from Australia, is going to provide Cambodia with technical assistance to control coconut beetles, which are quickly spreading in Cambodia, already infecting millions of coconut trees. On 12 September, a project agreement for emergency assistance for controlling coconut beetles was signed by HE It Nody, Under Secretary of State, representing the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Kimoto Tsukasa, FAO Representative in Cambodia. Fleur Davis, Counsellor of the Australian Embassy witnessed the signing ceremony. The government of Australia is providing financial support for the project through the Cambodia-Australia Technical Assistance Facility (CATAF) of its development agency, AusAID.

The Coconut Hispine Beetle (Brontispa longissima) is a pest that is making many millions of Cambodian coconut trees look sick from death of leaves and in some cases causes death of the trees, within 18-24 months. The Coconut Hispine Beetle will attack up to 17 different palm species, including Betel, Nipa, Royal, Oil Palm, and many other ornamentals and Cycads as well as coconut. However, coconut is the most attractive food of the beetle.

The Coconut Hispine Beetle is only a tiny 10mm long, but is a very serious pest that quickly spreads and rapidly eats the new leaf/spear of the coconut before the leaf opens causing it to dry and quickly die. The pest is widespread in Asia/Pacific and FAO is already assisting Lao, Maldives, Nauru, Thailand and Viet Nam with control using the parasitic wasp, and providing advice to China, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and other countries on control and quarantine.

The pest arrived from Viet Nam in 1999 and has spread to more than 8 million of the 12.8 million coconut trees in Cambodia. The Coconut Beetle is easily and completely controllable with the parasitic wasp (Asecodes hispinarum). In Viet Nam it has rescued the coconut industry which suffered from a USD 40 million loss per year to farmers and 5 percent loss of trees per year. Current losses in Cambodia are estimated at more that 25 million nuts per year and rapidly increasing. Tree losses are already present and increasing.

The project is aimed at quickly boosting the coconut beetle parasite’s work in Cambodia by multiplying the parasite in the FAO project lab at the University of Nong Lam in Ho Chi Minh City, bringing it to Cambodia and multiplying again in Phnom Penh and key coconut provinces prior to field release. The parasite is already in Cambodia and the work of the project is to quickly boost the parasite numbers to attack the problem during the current wet season, with early releases to begin in Takeo and Kampot provinces, where there are many thousands of severely damaged trees. Over the complete wet season it is hoped to cover all the provinces that have significant coconut plantings. In this way it is hoped to save further production losses and tree deaths.

Along with the release of the parasite in Cambodia will be a village awareness programme advising farmers on what is damaging the trees and how the Coconut Beetle is readily controlled with the wasp parasite. A key message will be "Do not to spray pesticides around coconut trees as these will also kill the 'good guy' parasite". Another important message addressed to rural communities is not carry or transport palms from one place to another, as this is the quickest way to stop rapid spread of the pest.

The wasp parasite does not attack other insects or plants, and once it is released and established the job is done. A one time release of the parasite is all that is needed to effect biological control of the Coconut Hispine Beetle. Complete establishment of the biological control takes between 8 to 11 months and once established re-infestation is practically nil.