Cocoa pod borer eradicated from Australia

February 13, 2014

Cocoa pod borer, an exotic pest of cocoa and tropical fruits including rambutan, has been successfully eradicated from Australia following an eradication program run under Australia’s emergency plant pest agreement. Australia is the only country to have eradicated the pest, allowing future production of cocoa and rambutans.

Cocoa pod borer (Conopomorpha cramerella) a mosquito-sized moth with damaging larvae, was first detected in a cocoa plantation in Far North Queensland in April 2011. Biosecurity Queensland undertook an eradication program under the terms of the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD), and in under three years, Australia has been declared free of the pest.

Greg Fraser, Executive Director and CEO of Plant Health Australia (PHA), the coordinator of the government-industry biosecurity partnership in Australia, said that the eradication demonstrated the benefits of the EPPRD.

“The agreement that we have in place in Australia allows for swift action to attempt eradication, before it’s too late and the pest has spread,” Mr Fraser said. “This successful eradication shows how well the system works, particularly given that no other countries have been able to eradicate it.”

Mr Fraser said that in this case, the affected industries were lucky that governments decided to act, and cost share the eradication response.

“Governments weren’t obliged to,” Mr Fraser said. “Normally growers have to be represented by a peak body that is signed up to the EPPRD before the arrangement applies. The Australian Government underwrites industry costs so there needs to be an industry body that can put a repayment mechanism in place.

“Governments decided to fund the response to give the small chocolate and rambutan industries a chance to develop without the cost of managing cocoa pod borer, which has proved difficult overseas.”

In cocoa plants, the caterpillar infects the pod but not the rest of the plant. The response succeeded in breaking the month-long lifecycle of the pest, by spraying and stripping pods from the trees.

Monitoring of crops for the pest continued for more than two years after the initial detection. Biosecurity authorities are now satisfied that the area is free from the pest, and it has been declared eradicated from Australia.

Mr Fraser said that this cocoa pod borer incident serves as a reminder to producers to keep an eye out for anything unusual and as a prompt to industries to ensure that they are part of the EPPRD with its cost sharing benefits for exotic plant pests.