Josep Jacas

Josep Jacas, full professor of Plant Production at Jaume I University remains  while the devouring action of the red palm weevil. The researcher, who has spent years studying this pest and whose team is currently collaborating on a joint project of the UE, the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Cordoba, prefers not to be an alarmist and warns us that, even though there is still a lot left to do, there are already some cases in which eradication has been effective. One can still  be optimistic.

What is your diagnosis of the “red plague”? Is everything as black as it seems?
What we have is a strong pest, and it is getting stronger. I think it is essential to assume that complete eradication may be a long term goal, but in the short term we need to find solutions to contain the pest and stop it. Agricultural entomologists know that eradication is only possible in the earliest stages of an outbrake and the economic effort is huge. Here we have spent over 44 million euros, but the pest has actually beaten us. We have to be proactive with preventive measures.

Public administration has been highly criticised  for taking too long to react. What are the mistakes that have led to this situation? 
Owners and town councils have to react before the symptoms become visible, they shouldn’t wait until they have infected palm trees. Prevention is very important and the people should be made aware of the problem, which may have not been discussed enough. Nobody knows about the pest and maybe the problem is that there has not been a proper coverage of the problem. Usually, both people and town councils only react when they detect the very evident symptoms, when the palm tree is already lost. We have to raise awareness and convince people that whoever has a palm tree has to protect it, not only for themselves, but for the rest of the community.

Many pest control remedies are being studied . Which one is the most effective?
There are many different detection methods, with their pros and cons. Ultrasound, infrared vision, trained dogs. You have to know which one to use and in which situations. Dogs can be useful in the port or any other  palm tree entry point, but not in an avenue. Regarding biological methods, there are different nematodes and different fungi species that have proved to be effective. All in all, integrated management is the preferred option, the intelligent combination of all available methods. Even research into paint is being carried out!

Paint against the weevil? 
It is the paint used in military clothes. It was developed by a company and we made the tests. It has micro-encapsulated insecticides. Micro-capsules provide long term emission, which can last up to a year.

Do we still have reasons to be optimistic?

SYes. There is a place where eradication was successful —the Canary Islands. Palm trees are a symbol there and the pest had only appeared in resorts, but we have to say: «Ladies and gentlemen, if these people got it right, why can’t we? It has been done somewhere!» Next spring, if no captures are recorded in the latest hotspots, they will be free from the pest. Eradication will have been effective.

José Vicente Bernabeu Pardo. Student of Journalism at the University of Valencia.
© Mètode 74, Summer 2012.

«The pest is unknown, maybe there has not been a proper coverage because people usually react when the palm tree is already lost»
© Mètode 2012 - 74. Online only. The Enchanted Cove - Summer 2012

Journalism student at the University of Valencia.