Newly appointed Opposition Whip, MP Jay Ngwele of Ambae, is calling on the Government to set up a Commission of Inquiry (COI) as soon as possible to find out who illegally imported the devastating Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) to Efate.
MP Ngwele says he suspects a foreign owned company has brought the beetle into Vanuatu.
Once identified, he said the COI has to recommend what is going to happen to the law breaker and more importantly, how the authorities are going to eliminate the pest.
The Government Whip has just returned from the Solomon Islands with alarming reports of the current devastation of both coconut plantations as well as palm oil plantations by the rhinoceros beetle and that the ongoing devastation is happening so fast that it seems the Solomon Islands’ fighters against the insect won’t be able to contain it, as the beetle is mobile and flies for four kilometres to perch on the next coconut tree.
He says while in the Solomons, he spoke to one of his friends and asked him what steps the Government has taken to control the pest.
“He told me he has given up on his coconut plantation and has diversified to noni farming because it is not possible to control the rhinoceros beetle”, MP Ngwele says.
Not only noni but Solomon Islands’ coconut farmers are turning to farming trees for logging and other cash crops because they have given up on their dying coconut trees due to the beetle’s unstoppable onslaught.
While acknowledging the confirmation by Director General of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity, Moses Amos, of the current presence of the rhinoceros beetle in the North Eastern Efate, the Opposition Whip says he suspects the insect might have arrived illegally on either machinery or imported items which were brought ashore in the area of Efate.
The Opposition Whip supports the DG’s view that the country lacks both relevant human and financial resources to eradicate the insect.
“The Solomons have tried to spray from the air to curb the onslaught seemingly without much success, while such a treatment technique would be detrimental in Vanuatu especially with regard to Vanuatu’s policy to promote organic farming”, MP Ngwele says.
As an MP from the North, he says coconut farmers on Ambae, Santo, Ambrym, Malekula and Epi are well known for their traditional dependence on their coconut trees as the ‘tree of life’ as it means their entire livelihood as far as having money in their wallets is concerned.
Speaking to the Director of Vanuatu Copra and Cocoa Exports (VCCE) in Luganville, Dyson Wilson says his company exports approximately 20,000 metric tons of copra per year or 2,500 metric tons per month, earning approximately Vt42 million per month which go directly to the farmers. “This is why it is the biggest challenge for the Government, to identify the most suitable means to eradicate the pest”, he says.
“What is going to happen if the rhinoceros beetle wipes out the farmers’ coconut trees?”
It is likely to become the biggest challenge for the Government after Cyclone Pam.