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New action plan to stop the spread of Red Palm Weevil

Governments endorse a plan to protect palm trees from destructive beetle

31 March 2017, Rome - A new action plan to stop the spread of the Red Palm Weevil has been endorsed at a high-level meeting at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome.

Agriculture ministers and other government representatives today agreed on a new strategy to fight the pest. It includes national interventions such as improved pest monitoring and greater involvement of farmers, as well as international efforts such as a proposed ban on the import of palms larger than 6cm wide from infested countries. 

The endorsement came after scientists, pest control experts, farmer representatives and others took part in the Scientific Consultation and High-Level Meeting on Red Palm Weevil, hosted by FAO with the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), to share the latest research and agree the best way forward.

The red weevil destroys palm trees by eating them from the inside, and has rapidly expanded its global spread to more than 60 countries. It threatens date and coconut palms, as well as ornamentals.

Factors contributing to the spread have been late detection of infested palms because of insufficient inspections, a lack of engagement with date and coconut farmers, improper assessment of the risks, few natural enemies of the pest, difficulties managing mass trappings across large oases networks, lax quarantine, improper disposal of infested trees, and difficulty controlling the pest in private homes or small family gardens.

"The Red Palm Weevil has become a global threat and demands a global strategy to eradicate it," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.  "The message coming from the scientific consultative meeting is a positive one: The Red Palm Weevil can be controlled and defeated."

Proof is in the Canary Islands. It was declared free of the pest in May last year, after implementing a coordinated strategy that included tight monitoring controls and the removal of all infested trees. In Mauritania, detection of the pest in an oasis triggered quick action by the Government with the support of FAO to implement an integrated pest management strategy that had farmers and farmer cooperatives at the core. The pest has been successfully contained to the original infestation area, without any outbreaks in the past six months, and with continued control efforts it is likely the area will be declared pest-free.

Integrated pest management involves farmer training, regular inspections, trapping using pest-attracting pheromones, tracking infestations, removing heavily-infested trees, tight quarantine controls, and monitoring progress of the integrated approach.

Farmers can be a very efficient, and cost-effective, frontline defence. They can regularly inspect trees to detect pests in the early stage of attack when a tree can still be saved, and carry out trapping and spraying.  A study in Saudi Arabia found that a seven percent infestation rate dropped to just 0.15 percent in one year when weekly inspections were introduced. In some affected countries, farmers have set up smart phone messaging app groups to share information and alerts.

The new framework aims to provide technical assistance and guidance for improving national control programs as well as a platform for inter-regional cooperation and coordination. It was produced by an international team of Red Palm Weevil experts from various countries and organizations with the support of FAO, CIHEAM and the Near East Plant Protection Organization (NEPPO).

Just four palm species were affected by Red Palm Weevil when studies were done in 1956, but now the pest attacks 40 palm species worldwide. The three most-affected species today are coconut palm, date palm and the tall ornamental Canary Island date palm.     

Photo: ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto
Experts on the Red Palm Weevil meet at FAO in Rome to debate and refine a global framework to eradicate the pest.

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