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Fiji Plagued by Taro Beetle Infestation

Taro is a root that grows in warm, humid climates, made popular by the American islands of Hawaii. It’s a primary source of food around many underdeveloped nations and is edible in many forms (but must be cooked first.) People often grind it into a powder to use as a starch, make it into a paste, or simply roast the taro with seasonings like a potato.

In Fiji, taro exporting is a $20 million dollar a year industry. The small island nation has a lush growing climate and taro is one of the country’s chief produce exports. Researchers are concerned, though, about a growing infestation of taro beetles, a pest that’s plaguing taro farmers on several of Fiji’s islands.

Taro beetles actually nest far away from the taro fields but seek them out when they become adults. Many species of taro beetle actually have a horn-shaped protrusion on their heads, leading to nicknames like “the Horn Beetle.” Once they locate a crop of taro, these beetles bore tunnels into the soil and feed ravenously on the roots themselves. While some taro fruit are saved from the beetles, the erosion of their growing habitat by the pests eventually leads to decreased production and lower market quality produce.

Fiji’s government has issued a large-scale notice to farmers to alert authorities when taro beetles are suspected. Quarrantines are being put in place in an attempt to corral the bugs, but some say it’s too little, too late. Hawaii, too, has dealt with its fair share of taro beetles in the past, sometimes lasting for decades at a time.

Farmers all over the US know the devastating impact that can come from a beetle infestation. Many fruits and vegetables grown on American soil are susceptible to beetles and other invasive bug species which is why so many turn to harsh pesticides to ward off such infestations. Integrated pest management, a new theory in pest control, seeks to contain these bugs and others using natural means like importing predators, webs and nets to keep bugs away, and better drainage.

Currently, Fiji’s taro bug infestation is not set to affect US prices of taro root or powder. Fiji largely imports their crops to nearby countries like Australia and New Zealand and the continental US gets most of its taro product direct from Hawaii. If you’d like to know more about Fiji’s taro beetle, click here.

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