20 May 2017

A date crisis with an evil weevil

From This Way Up, 12:40 pm on 20 May 2017

Not every weevil's evil. Some are important biocontrol agents for plants like gorse. 

But one species, the red palm weevil, is threatening global date supplies – this could mean fewer date scones, and more importantly, could contribute to greater political instability in Africa and the Middle East. 

Mark Hoddle is an entomologist who's originally from Auckland, and now works at the University of California Riverside.

"The palm weevil invasion has taken over extensive areas of the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and now northern Africa", Mr Hoddle said.

"The relatively recent incursion into Tunisia highlights the ongoing spread of this highly destructive palm pest into new areas that were previously uninfested. Organisations including the US government and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation are worried that it could continue to spread."

It is already causing problems for other major date producers in the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

Mr Hoddle has fought the pest in California, and has just returned from a crisis meeting in Tunisia aimed at finding some solutions to this problem facing the global date industry.