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Sustaining The Coconut Industry In The Asia Pacific: The Need For A Regional Bio-Security Plan

The movement of coconut germplasm constitutes a significant pathway for the transfer of pests and diseases from one region of the world to another.  Although recent advances offer alternative biotechnological methods on coconut cryopreservation using embryos and pollen, conservation of coconut is currently largely carried out with live trees in fields as coconut genebanks. However, on a global basis, coconut genebanks have to deal with a number of threats - one of which are pests and diseases.  As a result of these threats, some of the existing international and many national collections required appropriate remedial actions to save these valuable resources from complete loss.  Examples of recent notable global invasions of pests and diseases into countries (in parenthesis) includethe Coconut scale, Aspidiotusrigidus (Philippines), Bogia Coconut Syndrome (BCS) disease (Papua New Guinea), Cape Saint Paul Wilt (Cote d’Ivoire), Red Palm weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Malaysia), Lethal yellowing disease (Ghana), and the Red Palm Mite (RPM) (Raoniella indica) (the Caribbean).  As a specific example, participants from international and regional institutes and four Pacific countries participated in two workshops in 2015 in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to develop plans to assist in securing the threatened international coconut collection of the South Pacific, which is held at the Stewart Research Station in Madang, Papua New Guinea (PNG) to counter the threat from the Bogia Coconut Syndrome (BCS) disease complex.  BCS which is caused by a phytoplasma, not only affects coconuts but also banana and betel nuts. The disease is affecting these crops in farmers’ fields located approximately 15 kilometres from the field collection at the Stewart Research Station, which is host to the International Coconut Genebank for the South Pacific under the management of the Cocoa Coconut Institute Limited (CCIL).


The joint FAO/IBPGR technical guidelines for the Safe Movement of Coconut Germplasm (Frison, E.A. and Putter, C.A.J. 1993) details protocols to be followed to minimize the risk of unintentional transfer of exotic pests and diseases such as Coconut foliar decay virus (CFDV), Cadang-cadang viroid (CCCVd), Coconut tinangaja viroid (CTiVd), Lethal yellowing (LY), Root wilt or Kerala wilt, Scale insects and mites.  Given the importance of the crop within the Asia-Pacific region, the economic, social, environmental and political




consequences of  a  devastated  crop  as  a result of a new pest incursion are therefore of

major significance. The recurrent costs for management of any newly introduced pest, should complete eradication be unsuccessful will additionally mean added financial burden to production costs. To raise national preparedness to deal with incursions of these potentially devastating exotic pests, there is a need to move from a “fire brigade” approach to one of contingency planning and pre-emptive action. There is an urgent need to develop a comprehensive biosecurity plan to safeguard and sustain the coconut industry in the region from these very real threats. Pre-emptive emergency response planning, a key element of the concept of biosecurity, has been embraced by countries in the region to deal with the avian flu and other animal and public health threats with much success. The crop sector can certainly take a cue from these efforts to be better prepared.


A regional biosecurity strategy for the coconut industry in the Asia-Pacific, when prepared and implemented region-wide, would secure industry stakeholder participation and agreement on the goals, objectives and measurable targets of an action plan involving the exclusion, eradication and control of exotic pests identified as threats. The plan itself will provide direction and guidance to all relevant sectors in pre-emptive actions, emergency response and incursion management.CAB Internationalproposes to work with the APCC, engaging both the private sector and government stakeholders of the coconut industry to undertake this initiative on biosecurity preparedness for the region. Relevant national and regional agencies will be identified and invited to actively participate and contribute to the project. Key elements of the endeavour will include:


a)    Thorough global search, collation and review of information pertaining to pests and diseases of coconut of biosecurity concern to the region, and preparation of technical dossiers on all identified pest threats,

b)    Comprehensive risk analyses for these pest threats, from pathway to impact analyses

c) Development of risk management recommendations, contingency plans and emergency response procedures for pest threats identified to have high risk status

d)   A framework biosecurity plan for the coconut industry in the region, and detailed contingency plansfor specific high priority pests e.g. scale insects and lethal yellowing 

e)   Identification of information gaps and recommendations for pre-emptive R&D and capacity-building,

f)   Consideration of an enhanced stakeholder-driven surveillance and early warning programimplemented on a regional basis. 

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