Battle to eradicate rhinoceros beetle

The rhinoceros beetle has the ability to wipe out our growing coconut industry if it is not controlled.

In August of 2017, an alert was issued identifying a new danger to the Pacific is causing devastation to coconut palms and expanding rapidly across the region. The rhinoceros beetle is a longstanding adversary in Samoa, but according Crops A.C.E.O, Moafanua Tolo Iosefa, there are several environmental conditions that can cause its numbers to increase and wreak havoc on our coconut plantations.

Moafanua said one of the main causes of the increase in population of the rhinoceros beetle is due to neglect, on many different fronts. 

“Lots of people move and clear the land down which means cutting down coconut trees, but instead of destroying the logs they are left there to become a breeding ground for the beetles. The same goes for the old coconut trees that are dying but are still standing them need to be cut down and destroyed so as not to infect the new coconut trees in the productive ages.”

Moafanua said that there also needs to be a consistent effort from the Ministry’s crops division to keep on top of monitoring and assessing rhinoceros beetle populations from year to year.

This year $300,000 tala was allocated in the budget for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to fight the spread of the rhinoceros beetle as it threatens to halt our growing coconut industry during a time when the global demand for coconut oil and its products are at an all-time high. 

According to Moafanua, their Ministry’s plan of attack is going to involve working with the village and their taulealea. M.A.F. is also looking at their own capacity to see if the number of people they have to deliver their strategies is enough.

“This will take a massive and expensive undertaking, which not only involves a lot of human resources but we will be utilising all of our heavy machinery and equipment as well. We are going to work together with the village communities. What we are planning to do is call a meeting with all the pule nuus’ and ask them for their support in mobilizing their taulealea who are not working to work with us on this task.” 

During a coconut plantation inspection in Sapapalii, Moafanua pointed out that there are some farms that are free of the rhinoceros beetle because of good sanitation practices. 

“In Sapapalii, the first one we went to, the coconuts didn’t have any rhinoceros beetle, and we couldn’t see any signs of it because the sanitation programme is working there. People are actually looking after their plants by gathering the old coconut logs cutting them into pieces and burning them."

“So the major activity we are going to focus on is the sanitation and spreading of the bio-control pathogens which are the virus and the fungus. We are also continuing the collecting to establish several hundred traps in different villages in Upolu and Savaii. The staff is responsible every two weeks to collect those beetles trapped which will be brought into the labs, inspected for data and then destroyed.” 

Asked whether virus development is a “silver bullet” for eradicating rhino beetle, Moafanua said the jury is still out but that so far it is the most effective control method available at this time but that their division will be monitoring its effectiveness as they go about their activities to halt the threat of the insect to our coconut plants.

“We are trying to monitor that at this time. All beetle, larvae and eggs are collected from the field. We will count numbers of different states of beetles to see if they are infected by virus or fungus."

“We will know the rough estimates of beetles affected and we will know what allocations on which part of the island that the virus and fungus is effective. This is very urgent because the success of our coconut industry is threatened if we don’t control this.”

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