Red Palm Weevil

The Red Palm Weevil (RPW) Rhynchophorus ferrugineus Olivier is a major pest of date, coconut, ornamental and oil palms in a diverse range of agro-ecosystems worldwide. After gaining a foothold on date palm in the Near East during the mid-1980s, it has spread rapidly during the last four decades. Recent reports of RPW invasion suggest that the pest is establishing in the Caucasian region, where it has been detected on the Canary Island palm in Abkhazia in Georgia, and also in East Africa, where it has been detected on date palm in Djibouti. In total, it has now been detected in more than 60 countries including France, Greece, Italy, Spain and parts of the Caribbean and Central America. FAO is fulfilling its role of inter-governmental coordination, raising awareness amongst countries, establishing monitoring and early warning systems, adapting good practices across regions and ecosystems and developing control strategies with a good number of countries who are reaching out to FAO for support, guidance and coordination.

In March 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations organized a “Scientific Consultation and High-Level Meeting on Red Palm Weevil Management” and presented a framework strategy for eradication of RPW. Furthermore, the “Rome Declaration” delivered at the end of the meeting called for urgent action to combat RPW by collaborative efforts and commitments at the country, regional and global levels to stop the spread of this devastating pest.

There exist gaps and challenges in almost all the components of the current RPW integrated pest management (IPM) strategy, particularly in relation to early detection of the pest, development and implementation of phytosanitary measures, lack of effective biological control agents in the field and poor participation by farmers in the control programmes, making RPW control and eradication extremely difficult. Although there are several research publications and ongoing research programmes on RPW in many countries, there is an urgent need to intensify RPW research even further to develop user-friendly technologies that would reinforce the current RPW-IPM strategy. Generating data on the socio-economic aspects related to RPW control and enhancing farmer participation in the control programme are other important aspects that need to be considered.

Key facts on Red Palm Weevil (RPW)

  • RPW is one of the world’s major invasive pest species and is the single most destructive pest of some 40 palm species worldwide.
  • Palm trees are an important resource for many communities in the Middle East and North Africa. Dates have been a basic food staple for centuries, and are now an important economic crop.
  • More than seven million tonnes of dates are produced annually. In total, around 100 million date palm trees are cultivated today, 60 percent of them in Arab countries.
  • RPW attacks young, soft trees that are less than 20 years old. Around half of the 100 million date palm trees fit these criteria and are therefore vulnerable.
  • RPW has significant socio-economic impact on the date palm production sector and livelihoods of farmers in affected areas. The weevil causes economic losses in the millions of dollars annually, whether through lost production or pest-control costs.
  • In Gulf countries and the Middle East, USD8 million is lost each year through removal of severely-infested trees alone. In Italy, Spain and France, the combined cost of pest management, eradication and replacement of infested palms, and loss of benefits was around €90 million by 2013. This cost is forecast to increase to €200 million by 2023 if a rigorous containment program is not in place.
  • RPW is extremely difficult to detect in the early stages of an infestation because there are few externally-visible signs that the pest has taken over a tree: around 80 percent of the pest's life-cycle is hidden from view. For extremely tall species, an infestation in the crown of the tree is even harder to detect. Once an infestation has taken hold it is too late to save the tree.
  • Integrated pest control methods such as the targeted and reduced use of insecticides and bio-pesticides, low-cost, highly-sensitive microphones that can detect larvae feeding inside a tree, pheromone-based traps, drones, remote-sensing, and sniffer dogs are essential to contain the pest’s spread.