Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Saving coconuts in Southeast Asia and Pacific islands: Biological pest control enlists natural enemy to combat coconut beetle

Thailand, 07 Apr 2005 -- Bangkok – A tiny parasitic wasp may help save the coconut industries of a number of countries in the Asia and Pacific region from a destructive pest that feeds on the developing leaves of the coconut palm, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

Severe attacks by the coconut hispine beetle (Brontispa longissima Gestro) can destroy palm leaves and significantly reduce coconut yields. If a palm is young or suffers from poor growing conditions, it may die. The beetle has invaded coconut plantations in the Maldives, Nauru, Thailand, Viet Nam, the Lao’s People’s Democratic Republic and China, causing massive losses to local coconut industries. In response, FAO has launched biological control projects in all the affected countries aimed at achieving long-term control of the pest with the help of one of its natural enemies. […]

Spread of the pest
The coconut beetle is widespread in areas of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and a number of Pacific island countries. However, this invasive pest is new to continental Southeast Asia where, in the absence of natural enemies, it is rapidly spreading and causing massive damage. “If left unchecked, the beetle’s spread into Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka will have a similar devastating impact on the smallholder and plantation coconut industry in those countries, putting at risk the livelihoods of a great number of people dependent on this crop,” said Keith Chapman, FAO Industrial Crops Officer in Thailand. […]

Biological control
Government authorities in the region responded quickly to the incursion and launched control programmes involving the application of insecticides to the crown and stem of infested trees. In the Maldives and China, large numbers of seedlings and even mature trees were also removed and destroyed. However, the pest continued to spread and chemical control proved not only expensive and ineffective but also a serious health risk to farmers, families and consumers – as coconut plantings are often situated near homes. […]
Most countries, however, lack expertise in biological control in general and of this pest in particular. To build capacity in these countries in biological control of pests and increase public awareness on non-chemical, environment-friendly control methods, FAO is helping them develop integrated pest management programmes that follow international standards set by FAO. This support has assisted the countries in identifying the coconut hispine beetle to species level, in collecting and importing natural enemies of the beetle from Samoa in the Pacific, in rearing them in captivity for evaluation, and in releasing them into the fields.

FAO is now assessing the effectiveness of these exotic natural enemies in controlling the beetle and in helping to develop integrated pest management strategies that suit each country’s unique environment. “The biological control programmes of the coconut hispine beetle are excellent examples of achieving sustainable, long-term control of a very damaging invasive alien pest that minimizes impacts on the environment and the countries’ unique indigenous biodiversity,” said Peter Kenmore, an FAO expert in pest management.

RAP 05/14

More information at: