By CROFTON UTUKANA
THE deadly Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle has been sighted for the first time on one of the islands in the Russell Islands, Central Province.
This latest discovery has prompted more worry to the government’s Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) task-force.
“This worrying new report was received last week by the Bio-security Solomon Islands from agriculture officer James Leho,” coordinator of the CRB task-force Bob Macfarlane said on Tuesday.
Russell Islands is the home of the biggest coconut plantation in the country, owned by Levers Solomons Ltd.
This latest discovery came as agriculture experts and others meet in Honiara this week to map out a strategy of combating the deadly pest.
Mr Macfarlane said Mr Leho and others made the discovery during a routine surveillance of at risk areas requested by the Bio-security Solomon Islands.
He said Mr Leho and his group visited the islands of Moe, Loun, Small Loun, Tain, Telina, Banika, Yandina and Alokan.
“They found damage, larvae and adults of coconut rhinoceros beetle on Moe only.
“Mr Leho immediately reported this direct to BSI who will take action as soon as they are able.
“No damage, larvae or adults were observed on the other islands,” Mr Macfarlane explained.
The coconut industry is worth $150 million to the local economy.
“This represents a significant percentage of our foreign exchange earnings, most of which gets direct to the village-level.
Coconuts also play a crucial role in village nutrition being consumed at a rate of one nut per person per day (equating to 600,000 nuts per day) and of course the palm also has thousands of other uses.
Mr Macfarlane said the Rhinoceros beetle larvae look similar to many other beetle larvae but the adult looks quite different and samples of adults are needed before an outbreak can be confirmed.
“This is a very worrying development,” Mr Macfarlane stated.
“Russell Islands are home to the largest coconut plantation in the Southern hemisphere.
“The impact on the Solomon Islands coconut crop and copra exports could be severe if the beetle gets well established on the main islands.”
He said Mr Leho, the chiefs, leaders and people of Moe have done the right thing and have begun destruction of the main beetle breeding sites, dead and rotting coconut palms.
“It is very important that this is done thoroughly and quickly if spread to the main islands is to be slowed.
“There is no need to destroy damaged palms that still have their central growing spike as they can recover if the beetle attack is reduced.
“Moe is one of the closest of the Russell Islands to Guadalcanal but it is still more than 40 Km distant, which is much too far for the beetle to fly.
“It is therefore most likely that it traveled by canoe or small inter-island vessel as it did to Gela and Savo and possibly has already done to other islands in the Russell Islands group.”
Mr Macfarlane said Bio-security Solomon Islands will shortly travel to Moe and the other islands to carry out a survey to determine exactly where the beetle is present now.
“Once this information is clear Bio-security will plan a campaign to help villagers destroy the breeding sites.
“If we act quickly there is a chance of eradication.
“People need to be aware of the serious nature of the beetle problem and the very high importance of destroying the breeding sites.
“At the moment this is the only tool we have for reducing the beetle population.
“It is up to the people of every area where the beetle is present to destroy breeding sites.
“Failure to do this will mean the population will increase and more palms will be damaged or killed.
“People are requested to inspect their cargoes in canoes and inter-island vessels before they travel to make sure no beetles are present.”
The Rhinoceros Beetle was initially known to be present only in Honiara and surrounds.
It has since spread eastwards towards the oil palm estates of the Guadalcanal plains.
It has also recently been reported from the Shortland Islands on the border with Papua New Guinea.
In Malaita, one of the highest coconut producing provinces, the beetle has been sighted in parts of the province’s north.
According to Mr Macfarlane, they’ve secured funding from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which will be used in the planning and conduct of an awareness campaign against this deadly pest.
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By CROFTON UTUKANA