PEST COULD THREATEN PNG COCOA INDUSTRY

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By Baeau Tai

PORT MORESBY, PNG (June 14) -The incursion into the country of cocoa pod borer, a pest that destroys cocoa, can cause a huge fall in the country's cocoa export earnings.

Last month the National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAGIA) issued a strong warning against the importation of plant and plant parts.

This is due to the threat posed by the pest, which has already devastated crops in South East Asia, Malaysia, Thailand and has already reached the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya.

"This insect has been a big problem in the Philippines where it destroyed the fine flavoured cocoa industry there, and that's why Philippines is not into cocoa anymore,"executive manager for cocoa research with the Cocoa Coconut Institute of PNG (PNGCCI), Samson Laup said yesterday.

On average, Papua New Guinea produces and exports between 40,000 to 42,000 tonnes of cocoa yearly worth over K200 million.

"The presence of this insect is very serious and could result in economic loss of over K150 million," Mr Laup said.

He said the insect has now been recorded in Manakwari in Irian Jaya and reports indicate that it is spreading rapidly.

"The industry is very concerned about this pest," Dr Laup said.

The cocoa pod borer, Conopomorpha cramerell of the family Gracillariidae, is a small moth with white wings, white and gold diamond shaped stripes on the wings and is about 7cm long with long thin antennae (aerial like structures behind the eyes).

The moth lays its eggs in the furrows of the cocoa pods. The hatching larvae then burrows into the cocoa and feeds on the mucilage or gel like liquid coating of the beans.

The damaged pods show uneven yellowing with beans clumped together inside the pod. After two weeks the larvae leaves the pod using a silk thread to reach the ground. The entry hole allows secondary disease infections. The degree of damage depends on the age of the pod, the total number of larvae inside and the length of time in which the larvae feed.

"The insect feeds on rambutan, a fruit we plant in PNG and taun, a timber tree that is widely grown in PNG forests," DR Laup said.

An urgent meeting will be held in Vanimo next month to the identify the possible pathways for this insect and strategies will be discussed to stop the insect from invading PNG's cocoa industry.

This meeting to be attended by agencies involved in the cocoa industry will be a follow up meeting from the one held recently that highlighted the immediate need to stop the insect form entering PNG.

Some of the key agencies are NAQIA, PNGCCI, PNG Cocoa Board, the cocoa industry, and representatives from the National Planning Office, provincial authorities from West Sepik and Western province.

June 15, 2004

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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