Sweet potato weevil eradicated on Kume-jima

January 12, 2013 Ryukyu Shimpo

On January 11, at a press conference held at the Okinawa Prefectural Office, a senior staff member of the Naha Plant Protection Station announced that the serious plant pest known as the sweet potato weevil, or Cylas formicarius, has been eradicated on Kume-jima. The Naha Plant Protection Office of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been carrying out a survey of the extermination of the weevil on Kume-jima since June 2012. This is the first case in the world in which a coleopteran pest (beetle) has been eradicated by releasing into their population a large number of insects that have been sterilized through exposure to radiation. The eradication took more than 18 years to achieve. After revising relevant regulations, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will officially announce the successful eradication of the sweet potato weevil on Kume-jima before the end of March at the earliest.

The Naha Plant Protection Station completed the survey on December 28, 2012, but then last September confirmed the presence of weevil originating from sweet potatoes brought from the Okinawan mainland, so they extended the term of the survey. No further occurrence of weevils was subsequently confirmed, so the station brought the survey to an end.

In keeping with the Plant Protection Act, after it submits the safety report to its Food Safety and Consumer Affairs Bureau, the Ministry will hold public hearings run by academics, and then call for public comments. The government will then remove restrictions on the movement of sweet potatoes from Kume-jima.

Because another type of serious plant pest weevil still remains on Kume-jima, people are still unable to take host plants there, and are also prohibited from shipping sweet potatoes such as beniimo to other prefectures without having undergone heat treatment. Even so, a local farmer said, “This will make it easier for us to grow sweet potatoes.” Local potato farmers hope to expand shipments to the mainland of Okinawa.

Akio Toguchi, a senior staff member of the Naha Plant Protection Station, commented, “We have been working since 1994 to eradicate the weevil, and are proud of this achievement. It is a world-first. We would like to cooperate with residents of Kume-jima in order to prevent the reappearance of the weevil.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

Glossary

Sterile insect release method

A method used to eradicate serious plant pests. Large numbers of insects sterilized through exposure to radiation are released to mate in the wild and thereby contribute to the eradication of the population of that insect. In Okinawa, melon fly was eradicated using this method in 1993, but this is a world-first for the eradication of a type of beetle.

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