x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Red palm weevil 'great danger' to date palms

Infestations of voracious red palm weevils are threatening to damage the date palm industry, officials warn.

ABU DHABI // Infestations of voracious red palm weevils are threatening to damage the date palm industry, officials warned yesterday. "This is a great danger for the date palm industry," said Dr Abdul Wahab Zaid, the director of the date palm research and development unit at UAE University and the general co-ordinator of the Date Palm Global Network.

"Around 10 years ago, a lot of work was done to focus on trying to bring contamination [of the insects] to a low level, which was very successful in areas including Al Ain. However, some areas of the country were neglected." Dr Zaid said that while some regions managed to largely get rid of the insects, others did not, leading to the re-infestations. "This is a real catastrophe for the date palm industry," he said. "I would also call to strengthen co-ordination and efforts to combat the problem."

Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, called for greater co-ordination to deal with infestations of the imported parasite, which can kill date palm trees. According to the state news agency WAM, Dr Fahad issued the warning during a meeting that discussed a five-year strategy to rid the country of the insect, as well as to promote ways for farmers and relevant authorities to tackle the problem.

The spread of the red palm weevil is said to have begun in the 1980s, after it was mistakenly imported from Asia. The insect larvae bore into palm tree trunks. The untreated trees can die. In July, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced new regulations on the importing of palm trees to combat the menace. Dr Abdul Sattar al Beldawi, a plant pathologist, downplayed the issue, but explained how the insects burrow deep into the palm tree trunks. "They chew the tissue inside and make a big hole. If the tree is small or weak, after three to four months, the trunk can fall down, killing the tree," he said.

Trees should be burned to prevent the infestation from spreading, according to Dr Beldawi. Infestation is not always fatal, as steps can be taken to kill the insects, including fumigating the tree and closing off the hole. zconstantine@thenational.ae