An invasive species of beetle relatively new to Cambodia and the rest of continental Southeast Asia has been rapidly causing massive damage to millions of Cambodian coconut palm trees, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Because the spreading pest, known as the coconut hispine beetle, lacks a natural predator, it has quickly infected more than 8 million of the 12.8 million coconut palms in Cambodia since the insect arrived here from Vietnam in 1999, the FAO said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
To effectively battle the bug, which destroys palm leaves and significantly reduces coconut yields, a small species of “parasitic wasp,” which preys on the beetle, is being introduced under the initiative of the FAO to save coconut palms from damage in Cambodia and the rest of the region.
In Vietnam, controlled spreading of the parasite has “completely rescued” the country’s significant coconut industry, which had suffered a $40-million loss before the biological control was introduced, according to the FAO.
It is a natural enemy of the coconut beetle and FAO scientists claim the parasite, which attacks the larvae of the beetle, does not attack other insects or plants.
In Cambodia, scientists hope to quickly boost the parasite’s numbers in order to effectively attack the coconut beetles during the current wet season.
The parasites are scheduled to begin be released soon in Takeo and Kampot provinces, where there are many thousands of severely damaged coconut palm trees.
“Over the complete wet season it is hoped to cover all the provinces that have significant coconut plantings,” the statement said.
It’s not the first time that officials have tried to contain the resilient beetle in Cambodia.
According to a report by Hean Vanhan, Cambodia’s chief of plant protection for the Ministry of Agriculture, a lack of information about the invasive species caused the country to mount an “extensive chemical control campaign, incurring much expense but with negligible results.”
This time around, along with the release of the wasp parasite, officials plan to educate farmers about the beetle so they don’t indiscriminately spray pesticides around the trees or transport palms to different locations, which the FAO said is the quickest way of helping coconut beetles spread.