Graceful coconut palms are a fixture of the tropical landscape, they dot the shoreline like tall posts, ubiquitous in every tropical village, and represent an important cash crop in the Asia-Pacific region. But a mysterious pest began ravaging the palms, scorching and browning the leaves, and ultimately killing the towering individuals. It turned out that the mysterious pest is the palm leaf beetle which previously occurred only in the Pacific islands. If the menace is not halted, it is likely to cause major economic problems especially for rural folks dependent on the crop, not withstanding the ugly scars that would dot the environment.
Obviously the natural barriers, the wide seas and mountain ranges, cannot be effective anymore in a shrinking globe where plant material is moved freely around the region. When FAO became aware of the problem, it took immediate measures to control the spread of the leaf beetle. While chemical control measures can generally be applied, in this case the height of the palm and costs of chemicals have both proven to be prohibitive. FAO took several steps to bring about effective control using biological control methods. Experts were dispatched to several countries to introduce the biological control methods – which include rearing the natural parasites and releasing them in the affected areas, and monitoring subsequent developments. But this remains only one measure among a series of activities needed if proper control is to be brought out. FAO, under the aegis of the Asia Pacific Forest Invasive Species Network (APFISN), has been exploring the range of activities which have to be put in place for effectively controlling the coconut leaf beetle from spreading further.
This proceedings represents the results of a workshop of agricultural and forestry experts from across the region. They call for a need to develop a regional programme to investigate the coconut leaf beetle problem so the status of infestation and effectiveness of the eradication programme can be systematically monitored. The experts also point out the critical need to work between sectors: it is increasingly evident that problems in one sector, for example those in agriculture, can also affect the forest sector in due time. It is therefore extremely desirable that multidisciplinary approaches are adopted to halt the spread of invasive species.
The proceedings also goes beyond the coconut leaf beetle problem to look at the broader issues of invasive species in the region such as technology transfer, policies, institution building, and the importance of farmers’ education, all of which are integral parts of pest management.
Finally, I must point out that in FAO’s longstanding tradition, the work was undertaken in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Asia Pacific Association of Forest Research Institutes, the Commonwealth Agriculture Bureau International, and APFISN. This publication represents an important starting point for systematic and multidisciplinary approaches to solving problems of invasive species in the region.