SI Million Dollar Industry Under Treat

Damage resulting from the coconut rhinoceros beetle. HDOA photo.

THE coconut industry is worth at least $150 million to the Solomon Islands economy annually.

This represents a significant percentage of our foreign exchange earnings, most of which gets direct to the village-level.

Coconuts also play a crucial role in village nutrition being consumed at a rate of one nut per person per day (equating to 600,000 nuts per day!) and of course the palm also has thousands of other uses.

The palm oil industry is worth $150-200 million to the Solomon Islands economy and is the biggest employer in the country.

Within the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Biosecurity Solomon Islands (BSI) is, amongst other things, responsible for managing agriculture pest emergencies.

It has developed a National Operational Plan to respond to the threat represented by CRB. The Plan includes short and long-term aspects; in the short-term a plantation clean-up campaign will be instigated, a campaign to slow the spread of the pest will be begun and surveillance systems to track spread will be put in place.

In the longer-term farmers will be advised to maintain plantations free of rotting palms and other vegetation, the domestic quarantine services will be maintained and a work programme supported to find and disseminate biological control agents for the pest. This meeting is a key step in initiating the plantation clean-up campaign for the short and long-term.

In the past leaving dead palms to rot was the normal accepted practice in Solomon Islands plantations but now these rotting palms provide a ‘dream home’ for the beetle that could decimate our industries and livelihoods. Destruction of rotting palms and other dead vegetation is necessary to reduce the population of CRB to manageable numbers.

This requires a change in the way coconut plantations are managed in Solomon Islands.

The workshop sought to develop ideas for messages and methods that will induce behaviour change especially in villages, urban centres, with industry and by policy makers. It brought together lay-people, experts and professionals including communications experts, scientists, agriculturalists, extension experts, farmers and. The sheer scale of the problem requires a multi-faceted approach to come up with a sustainable solution to ‘change the habits of a lifetime’ particularly in villages.

Dealing with this issue is a priority for the Solomon Islands Government, the private sector and many donors. Working together will allow us to deliver the plan and attract an appropriate level of funding.