Costs rise as coconut beetle spreads to South West Efate

Vanuatu has not been able to contain the spread of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle to North West Efate where it was first spotted last year.

The Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity, Moses Amos, says the pest has unfortunately spread to the Mele area in South West Efate.

The beetle attacks coconut trees and is able to destroy plantations making it a threat to the local industry.

Mr Amos says the Biosecurity Vanuatu department’s main focus after the State of Emergency ended for North West Efate, was to try to control the beetles biologically .

However, he says, “The process of totally eliminating this beetle is not an easy one.”

Mr Amos says the Vanuatu Government has spent over VT23 million on efforts to control the beetle in North West Efate and will now need to spend more to control its spread in the Mele area.

The Director General says one of Vanuatu Biosecurity’s first priorities was to destroy the beetles’ breeding places to reduce their numbers before starting biological control measures.

Mr Amos says biosecurity officers had thought the cliff at Mangaliliu Village would create a natural barrier to stop the beetles flying to other areas close by, such as Mele.

“But we could not eliminate them all, there was always a surviving female beetle that would fly out and hatch its eggs and populate another area,” he said.

Bill Garae, Acting Assistant Plant Health Officer, says Biosecurity Vanuatu will now extend its eradication and prevention measures from Mangaliliu to Mele.

But, he says but this is a challenge. He says the multiple land owners in South West Efate make it a more difficult place to work than the North West, where in Mangaliliu, there is a village chief who is the only person responsible for directing the work of biosecurity officers working in that area.

“Properties from Mele to Bukura are owned by different people which makes it harder for us to do the job properly in eliminating the beetles,” he told VBTC.

Biosecurity Vanuatu is asking coconut farmers to take responsibility for clearing their coconut plantations as part of a preventative sanitation program.

The department says there is now a risk of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle spreading further to other areas in Vanuatu through ship, boat and land transport.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity is working with the New Zealand Government to control the spread of the beetle in Vanuatu.

The beetle was first found at North West Efate last year. It then spread outside North West Efate early this year.

Last October, about 30 beetles infused with a virus were released in Vanuatu as a method to control the spread of the pest.

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