Acting swiftly to curtail the spread of Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle in the Marshall Islands

Source(s): Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Headquarters

In response to the outbreak of the coconut rhinoceros beetle in Majuro, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has taken action to mitigate the impact of the pest on food security and the livelihoods of the population.

The Marshall Islands government declared a state of emergency after discovering the beetle on the islands in September 2023. 

“The coconut tree is the ‘tree of life’ for the country because every part of it is useful; from its tallest frond and husks down to its rooted trunk. However, the health of our coconut trees has come to focus and needs immediate attention to ensure food security for island inhabitants,” Iva Reimers-Roberto, Secretary for Ministry of Natural Resources and Commerce, stated in a letter to FAO.

Coconut growers in the Marshall Islands are predominantly smallholders. Coconut cultivation covers most of the land areas in islands other than Majuro and Kwajalein atolls. Notably, copra (dried coconut meat) and coconut oil constitute significant exports, with an export volume valued at approximately USD 15 million.

The rhinoceros beetle poses a threat by attacking the developing coconut tree fronds, affecting the oil and coconut meat. The infestation leads to the loss of coconut seedlings and reduced yield in mature palms.

Managing the pest, protecting livelihoods

To combat this menace and safeguard livelihoods, FAO assessed the level of beetle incidence. Based on the findings, prevention measures were implemented including sanitizing infected trees to prevent further spread and population buildup. 

“The urgent support is aimed to protect the vital coconut resources and the well-being of the island communities, and to strengthen the government's response to rhinoceros beetle outbreak. Training has been delivered to field and Plant Protection officers to understand the pest’s behavior for effective management. In addition, integrated pest management solutions have been developed tailored to the level of infestation,” said Shoki AlDobai, Team Leader for FAO’s Locusts and other Transboundary Plant Pests and Diseases. 

A customized national action plan has been developed to enhance countrywide surveillance and prevent further spread to new areas. The plan also facilitates coordination among stakeholders and raises awareness about effective pest management across all the islands.

About the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle

This challenging pest is widely distributed in coconut-growing regions worldwide. Adult beetles inflict damage by burrowing into unopened spear leaves and spathes. They feed on internal tissues, causing them to wither and leading to the complete loss of nuts within the affected cluster.

FAO provided emergency technical assistance thanks to the financial support from the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA) through the ongoing project aimed at strengthening plant health emergency management.

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Country and region Marshall Islands
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