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BY LYNTON AARON FILIA

NEW Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are close to reaching an agreement with the Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC).

The agreement is set on the structure of a new project to assist with the management of the coconut rhinoceros beetle, Oryctes rhinoceros, in Solomon Islands.

This beetle is the most destructive insect pest of palms, particularly coconut and oil palm, worldwide.

In other countries more than 50 percent of palms were killed in the first 10 years after it arrived.

According to Government and Palm Industries CRB Taskforce, in Solomon Islands it is already causing significant damage, wherever it goes a very high proportion of palms are either severely damaged or killed.

CRB Taskforce also adds it is now present in Honiara and has spread along the north coast of Guadalcanal and to North Malaita, Ngella, Savo, parts of Russell Islands and Ulawa.

A different strain of the same beetle has been detected in Shortlands and more recently in Gizo, CRB Taskforce said.

It also said coconut is the most important plant in the country contributing significantly to export earnings and to village economies, food and livelihoods.

The Taskforce further said palm oil and palm kernel cake exports also contribute significantly to export earnings and employment.

The new MAL/NZ/SPC project will facilitate activities by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) to try to reduce the population of beetles and slow its spread.

The project will fund action over the next two years in most beetle infested communities to help destroy all breeding sites, namely dead and rotting palms and rotting vegetation.

Once the population of beetles has declined the level of attack will also decline.

It is hoped that by that time another New Zealand project will have identified a new beetle virus disease that kills or reduces the spread of coconut rhinoceros beetle and the virus disease may be ready to release to keep the beetle numbers low.

The destruction of dead and rotting palms is not currently part of normal plantation management but will be required from now on.

Another project supported by Strongim Bisnis will work with MAL and the NZ projects to help communities permanently change these habits of a life time.

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