By Emma Batha
LONDON, March 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Agricultural ministers have agreed on a plan to fight the red palm weevil which ravages coconut, date and oil palms, experts said on Friday, describing it as "a global threat".
The strategy includes greater involvement of farmers in combating the weevil, improved pest monitoring and a proposed ban on the import of palms larger than 6cm wide from infested countries.
In some countries, farmers have already set up smart phone messaging app groups to share information and alerts, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.
"The red palm weevil has become a global threat and demands a global strategy to eradicate it," FAO head Jose Graziano da Silva said.
The red weevil, which has few natural enemies, has spread to more than 60 countries from the Caribbean to southern Europe, according to the FAO which hosted a meeting of scientists, pest control experts, farmer representatives and government officials in Rome this week.
An adult female can lay around 200-300 eggs in a palm and the resulting larvae munch their way through the tissue, destroying the tree from the inside.
The weevil, which has spread rapidly through the Middle East and North Africa in the last three decades, causes economic losses in the millions of dollars annually through lost production and pest control.
It attacks 40 palm species, the most affected being the coconut palm, date palm and the tall ornamental Canary Island date palm.
The FAO said measures to combat the pest should include training farmers, introducing regular inspections, using pheromone traps, tracking infestations, removing heavily-infested trees and tightening quarantine controls.
It said the Canary Islands had been declared weevil free last May after concerted efforts to eliminate the pest. In Mauritania, the government has acted promptly to contain an infestation in an oasis by working closely with farmers.
"Farmers can be a very efficient, and cost-effective, frontline defence," the FAO said in a statement.
"They can regularly inspect trees to detect pests in the early stage of attack when a tree can still be saved, and carry out trapping and spraying."
(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)