Solomon Islands has formed a new partnership with New Zealand to step up the response to the invasive Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) which, if left unchecked, would pose a serious threat to food security and coconut and palm oil industries.

Last Friday (15th January 2021) a Grant Funding Arrangement was signed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Ethel Tebengi Frances, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, McKinnie Dentana, and the Acting New Zealand High Commissioner, Hannah van Voorthuysen that commits approximately SBD$10 million over a two year period to strengthening management and control of the CRB in Solomon Islands.

The partnership supports biosecurity officials to control and prevent the spread of existing CRB infestations. A new strain of CRB from Guam (CRG-Guam) is proving resistant to current biocontrol measures and has the potential to impact 50-90% of coconut, oil, sago and beetle nut palms without intervention.

The new partnership will therefore increase provincial CRB surveillance, clean-up and management activities; establish internal quarantine protocol to limit the spread of CRB between provinces; and collect and analyse CRB samples to inform integrated pest management practices. It builds on work completed by MAL to map out sites of CRB infestation across Solomon Islands which is informing the response.

In 2020, MAL Biosecurity officers worked with New Zealand-based AgResearch to conduct delimiting surveys in the provinces, and sent beetle samples to New Zealand for testing. Findings from this work will enable biosecurity officers to prioritise high risk infestations in the provinces and support communities to manage, control and potentially eradicate CRB infestations.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Permanent Secretary of MAL, PS Ethel Tebengi Francis said Solomon Islands is very grateful to the New Zealand government for this timely funding support.

“We are so blessed that New Zealand again saw it fit to continue supporting the nation in this fight to control coconut rhinoceros beetle infestation on our coconuts and oil palm plantations.”

“This funding comes at the right time when all the impacts of COVID 19 is putting a lot of pressure on our economy. As a country we need to look at how to recover and the coconut and palm oil industries are those that we need to focus on because they bring in a lot of money into the economy.”

PS Ethel also acknowledged the previous partnership arrangement with New Zealand that was implemented through the Pacific Community (SPC) and thank the Acting New Zealand High Commissioner for the trust of her government to accept the request made by Solomon Islands government to implement the funding on our own and she promise that MAL will do its utmost best to deliver to their expectations.

Acting New Zealand High Commissioner Hannah van Voorthuysen noted that this partnership is complemented by a broader NZ$18m programme supporting Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu to manage the spread of CRB across Melanesia. This includes research through New Zealand Crown Agency AgResearch to find new biocontrol methods as well as support for regional awareness, surveillance and coordination by The Pacific Community (SPC).

“This is a destructive and difficult pest to manage,” she said, “community driven eradication measures will be supported through high-quality scientific research and regional efforts as we work collectively to rein in the beetle’s destruction of coconut and palm trees that are essential for food security and livelihoods in Solomon Islands.”

Director of Biosecurity Solomon Islands, Francis Tsatsia emphasised that CRB is still a major and very serious threat to Solomon Islands. The Coconut pest has unique life cycles and biology which makes it very difficult to contain and eradicate. It is very crucial everyone understand how best to manage the pest to reduce its population.

“The message for communities remains simple: cut, burn and kill. If you suspect you have CRB, can see visible damage, and if the palm looks like it will not recover, then cut down the tree. Use or burn the wood straight away, as this will reduce the chance that the CRB spreads, or the larvae inside the tree continue to grow. Tidy your community areas of rotting wood, and manage compost and manure carefully to ensure that the beetle breeding sites are minimised”.

If you notice CRB in your community, or see signs of damage, please report it promptly to the BEEC office on 131 CRB Toll Free line.