CONVINCING villagers in communities to change the way they manage coconut trees is a very sensitive task. This was heard in the recent SINU talk at the Kukum Campus.
A presenter in the talks, Mr Bob Macfarlane, MSc, an entomologist from Wales says it is a big issue at the moment especially trying to persuade village farmers to change lifetime habits.
“In the past, they could let a palm die and fall down and rot and it didn’t matter, you didn’t have to do anything at all and that must change now.
“Every palm that dies must either be used in some way for instance, for charcoal, for timber, for veneering or whatever.”
At the talks, it was heard that the Rhinoceros beetle larvae breeds and feeds on dead palm trees, a problem which the Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Limited (GPPOL) is now faced with.
GPPOL employs 1,500 people on the Guadalcanal plains, who mostly reside in the plains area with their families.
In order to tackle the intruder, it was heard that the company deployed 100 workers to search for larvae in their habitats and to destroy them. A dozen crate full is a good day’s work.
“if we don’t get control of the situation, I fear we might lose oil palm altogether,” says GPPOL General Manager, Craig Gibson.
In search for a virus to control the beetle, namely the silver bullet type, though, is a biological control like the virus that saved the coconuts plantations of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga 60 years ago, sadly, the Solomon Islands’ coconut rhinoceros beetle is resistant to the virus that worked in Fiji so the search is on for its own biological control.
“You have to match the DNA of the strain of beetle that we have with DNA from the country of origin,” Macfarlane from the Ministry of Agriculture (MAL) said.
“There’s no certainty yet but we believe it comes from the Philippines or Indonesia or Vietnam and we have to do a DNA match and then try and identify what is keeping it under control in those countries and then import that.”
Can Solomon Islands live with the rhinoceros beetle or will it be forever changed? “It’s a big question,” Macfarlane said.
“If we can get the right disease, the right parasite, predator, population suppressing organism, whatever you want to call it into the country and we get the population down and people do change their behaviour in that they’re cleaning up the breeding sites, then yes, we can get back to something like what it was before, but there are a lot of ifs and buts along the way.”
For GPPOL, Gibson explained that the stakes are much higher than the future of his company.
“It’s a great crop for tropical countries, especially developing tropical countries and we employ a lot of people here and we support a lot of local people who have their own oil palm, and we have plans for expansion because it is a good growing region with great yields, but first we have to get on top of this beetle,” he said.