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Red Palm Weevils Wreak Havoc On Palm Plantations Across The Globe

06:41 EDT 22 Jun 2017 | Meridian Institute

Red palm weevils are one of the biggest threats to global agriculture today. This tiny, bright red weevil is native to South Asia but, thanks to globalization, they have spread to more than 60 countries from the Caribbean to Southern Europe. The bugs eviscerate coconut, date and oil palms, and have caused millions of dollars in economic losses worldwide. The threat from the weevil has led to meetings at the United Nations, in which an international team developed an action plan against the pest, and between the United States State Department and the Tunisian agriculture department. The panic is not without warrant, says Mark Hoddle, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, in the U.S. "Red palm weevils are notoriously difficult to detect — until it's too late," he says. And, he adds, too many people, including farmers, are unaware of the pests. "People are still moving live [weevil infested] palm trees around, and across borders," Hoddle says. In California, the weevils have been introduced by both individuals and bigger businesses, but Hoddle and his colleagues have been able to quickly reign in the outbreak. But other countries have not been as lucky. Once the weevils have fully established themselves in a new country, it is much harder to stop them. Truly eradicating them requires resources and access to the right sprays and lures, as well as coordination among farmers within each country and across national borders. Shoki Al Dobai, an officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) who helped organise the recent UN conference, said, "Now we have around 60 countries that are affected by this pest. And because of climate change, the pest is able to spread to countries where before the weather wouldn't have allowed for them to survive." At the conference, agricultural ministers and farmers agreed to improve monitoring of the spread of the weevil and proposed a ban on the import of palms larger than six centimeters wide from infested countries. Says Abdelazize Eljiati, a Saudi Arabian date farmer, "At the same time that we are helping our neighbors to clean and treat their farms, we are also protecting ourselves from weevils coming back to us from other farms. This is helping everybody."

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