BCS threat to betel nut

Main Stories, National

The National, Monday July 15th, 2013

 BOGIA Coconut Syndrome (BCS), a disease that has killed thousands of coconut palms in Madang, may be responsible for the destruction of betel nut trees, the Cocoa Coconut Institute (CCI) and National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAQIA) warned two months ago.

They said that symptoms were also showing in major food crops.

The warning, which was sounded in an exclusive report in The National in May, may not have been heeded by political leaders resulting in a lot of “misinformation”, a well-placed source said at the weekend.

Madang Governor Jim Kas raised the issue in parliament last Thursday when he said betel nut palms were being affected by a new disease that could affect the livelihood of citizens who depended on the cash crop.

Kas blamed the cocoa pod borer, which has decimated the once-thriving cocoa industry in East New Britain, for destroying betel nut trees in the Markham Valley of Morobe.

NAQIA is understood to be preparing a status report for Agriculture and Livestock Minister Tommy Tomscoll in relation to the governor’s concern.

CCI’s officer-in-charge of its Stewart research station Alfred Kembu said BCS, caused by an unknown micro organism, was spreading from villages in Bogia through to Sumkar and Madang town after having laying to waste a trail of dead coconut trees.

Kembu said the disease was also wreaking havoc on betelnut, banana and sago trees as well as other local food crops such as taro and yams.

He added that it could also attack the research station’s prized gene bank of coconut trees from all over PNG and the South Pacific region.

Symptoms show when strong coconut trees suddenly wilt and die in the space of just three months, and when the first case was reported several years ago, it was initially thought that the tree had been struck by lightning until proven otherwise when other trees started showing the same symptoms.

Betel nut and sago palms, as well as food crops, are now wilting and dying likewise.

“In this regard, food security is a big concern for our people in these three areas,” Kembu said.

“It is very serious. We initially knew that it was confined to coconuts and bananas, but now, it has gone on to betel nut, sago, and various other food crops.

“This is supposed to be a disease of palm trees, but unfortunately for us in PNG, it’s jumping from palms to crops.

“The fact that it is jumping from palms to tree crops makes it more dangerous.

“It’s a big problem that the government will need to support.”

CCI is working with NAQIA, Madang division of agriculture and livestock, Ramu Agri Industries, and Oil Palm Industry Association, and a K700,000 checkpoint had been set up at Tapo in Bogia.