Stakeholders discuss effective communications to control beetle spread

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Tuesday, March 20 2018

A workshop was held in Honiara on Thursday, 8 March 2018, to discuss better ways of promoting awareness about the threat of the coconut rhinoceros beetle (CRB) and communicating key messages to different audiences about controlling the spread of the beetle in the Solomon Islands.

Biosecurity Solomon Islands director Francis Tsatsia presents the outcomes of a group discussion during the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Awareness and Communications Workshop. PC: Samantha Rina

Organised by the Australia and New Zealand-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program, the workshop was attended by key stakeholders from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Biosecurity Solomon Islands (BSI), Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Company, farmer organisations, communications specialists, journalists and members of the CRB Response Taskforce.

Entomologist Bob Macfarlane who has been highlighting CRB issues through local and international media said although the pest was detected in 2015, it had taken time for the government and the public to realise the seriousness of the outbreak and the threat it posed to livelihoods and the economy.

“People have finally come to realise what BSI has been saying for the past two years that this is an important pest. It took almost two years for the message to hit home and that was after widespread destruction to coconuts,” he said.

Macfarlane said the pest was not only a threat to the coconut, oil palm and sago industries but also banana and sugarcane.

“The beetle looks identical to the ones in Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa but it behaves differently and has small differences in its DNA therefore its response to control measures used in the other countries is different. The beetle in the Solomon Islands is resistant to the disease strain used to counter the beetle in Fiji,” he said.

During the workshop, participants were asked to design appropriate and effective messages for decision makers, urban dwellers and people living in rural areas. They were also asked to identify the most effective channels to promote the messages.

Macfarlane said although the use of insecticides was an option, the method was expensive and dangerous therefore they were seeking alternative ways to control the spread including reaching out to the public at various levels.

“Changing the mindset of the people is our biggest challenge. We have been promoting the message of cutting down dead palms and destroying all palms lying on the ground because they are breeding sites for the beetle but people still don’t understand and these measures are not current practices,” he said.

“We want to know what message will persuade people in the villages and rural communities to change their current practices, what message will best get through to the townsfolk and how we can persuade decision makers to support and fund action against CRB.”

Some suggestions from the workshop include:

  • Adopting incentive-based strategies to motivate people in rural communities to clear and destroy dead palms;
  • Lobbying for government support with the help of non-government organisations;
  • Communicating the economic and social impacts of the CRB threat through the media from a human interest perspective;
  • Planning events such as a CRB Clean-Up Day to actively engage the public and decision makers in efforts to control the pest;
  • Communicating potential losses and impact on profits to stakeholders in the supply chain (businesses) and relevant industries;
  • Commercialising the CRB larvae as a feed for chickens and pigs as a way to control the CRB spread; and
  • Introducing fines and penalties for non-compliance with sanitation requirements and on logging companies that do not practice due diligence in preventing the spread of the beetle.

BSI director Francis Tsatsia said the outcomes of the workshop would be developed into a report and embedded into the BSI communications strategy that would be presented to donor agencies and relevant ministries for much-needed funding.

Tsatsia acknowledged the PHAMA Program for organising and funding the workshop.

For further information, contact Andrew Piper at a.piper@phama.biz or on +677 22365

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