Tiny cocoons now hanging from the branches of palm oil trees in Koh Kong province could spread a new agricultural pest throughout the nation if the caterpillars they house are allowed to become butterflies, officials warned Wednesday.
The nettle caterpillar, or darna trima, has already damaged palm oil production.
“If this spreads outside the palm oil plantation, it will affect other kinds of plantations in Cambodia,” said Hean Vanhorn, deputy director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s agronomy and land improvement department.
“This is the first alien pest coming to affect palm oil trees in Koh Kong. We are greatly concerned about the arrival,” he said.
Tann Molivann, deputy director of the Mong Reththy Group, said that the caterpillars had devastated some of the plantation’s crop.
“Four thousand palm oil trees have been infested with the new pest since late January,” Tann Molivann said. “This caterpillar devours all the green leaves, saps the flowers’ nectar and makes the trees look burned,” he said,
The pest, which is apparently Malaysian in origin, can be stopped, he added. “This infestation is not at the level of an outbreak yet,” he said. “We can control it.”
Although the bug is known to hail from Malaysia, Tann Molivann said he didn’t know how it came to Mong Reththy’s plantation.
“I don’t know how it was transported. Maybe in the palm oil seed that the Mong Reththy company imported from Malaysia, or other sources that I don’t know about,” he said.
“The quality of the imported seeds is not properly controlled by officials, because they don’t have expertise in this,” he added.
Kompong Chhnang province is also facing the worst army worm (Pseudaletia unipuncta) infestation seen in Cambodia since 800 hectares were damaged in Kompong Cham in 1998, said Chhun Hy, deputy chief of the Ministry of Agriculture’s crop protection office.