Coconut leaf beetle, a destructive pest, has blighted the crop in many countries

Kerala faces the imminent threat of being invaded by the coconut leaf beetle, a destructive pest that has blighted the crop in several countries bordering India. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) is closely monitoring the invasive species, Deputy Director General (Horticulture) N.K. Krishnakumar has said.

Talking to The Hindu, Dr. Krishnakumar, who was here to deliver the Sree Visakham Tirunal endowment lecture organised by the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) on Saturday, stressed the need to put quarantine facilities on high alert against the new pest that had entered all the bordering countries except Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. “We should be prepared to face the situation in case of its introduction to the country.”

A native of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Pacific Islands, the coconut leaf beetle (Brontispa longissima) is classified as a very destructive pest attacking the leaves of young coconut palms.

B. longissima is an immediate threat likely to affect Kerala and other States any time. It is already on our Red List and people are working on a strategy to control it,” Dr. Krishnakumar said. “Like earthquakes, you do not know when or where it could come from. We only know it is likely to come.”

Dr. Krishnakumar said India was highly vulnerable to the threat posed by at least 10 to 12 species of dreaded invasive crop pests including the Cassava mealy bug (Phenacoccus manihoti) and Giant Whitefly that infests ornamental plant species in nurseries and gardens. The Wheat Rust UG99, a disease triggered by a fungus, is also considered a potential threat to Indian crop production.

He said several invasive species of insects were already present in India and devastating the ecosystem. Efforts to control the Erythina gall wasp introduced into the country in 2005-07 had failed to succeed, he pointed out.

Earlier delivering the lecture, Dr. Krishnakumar said India’s food security could be at risk from invasive alien species. Preparedness for pest management was crucial to thwart the menace and the huge economic loss likely to be caused by the invasion. Weed invasions were also major threats because they could alter the native biodiversity and cause ecological imbalance.

He stressed the need for the country to step up vigil against the emerging threats.

Member of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore Gouri Parvathy Bai was the chief guest. Director, CTCRI, S.K. Chakrabarti presided. President, Indian Society for Root Crops, S. Ramanathan and secretary G. Byju also spoke.