Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Somchai launches a stinging attack

Wasp project 'funded entirely by Thailand'

Published: 21/07/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

The Department of Agriculture has slammed a Colombia-based agricultural research centre for taking credit for the biological pest control project in the Northeast of Thailand.

The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) on Saturday posted a statement on its website to promote the pest control project in which more than 10,000 wasps were unleashed in Khon Kaen province to fight against pink mealybugs.

DOA director-general Somchai Charnnarongkul yesterday dismissed the report and lashed out at the CIAT for proclaiming their role in the biocontrol project.

"We would like to make it clear that the import of wasps is only done by the department. The Thai government is the sole sponsor of the project. Not a single baht comes from international agencies," said Somchai Charnnarongkul, the DOA's director-general.

"The Thai research team has started an initiative to test whether the wasps are able to live and control the pink mealybugs in the region."

The CIAT statement has been reported by several news agencies.

Rod Lefroy, the CIAT's regional coordinator for Asia, was quoted as saying that the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research, which is a parent organisation of the CIAT, initiated the wasp project after Thai farmers noticed bugs clinging to withered cassava plants in large numbers last year.

The CIAT team, in collaboration with the DOA, imported the biocontrol wasps from Benin in Africa, and began a massive breeding and testing programme prior to Saturday's release, news reports said.

Mr Somchai said the CIAT's publicising of the biocontrol research done by the Thai scientist team without prior notice was "inappropriate".

"If the project is successful, Thailand should be the first country to get the benefit," Mr Somchai said. "Introduction of the project to neighbouring countries affected by similar infestation will be done through the government-to-government system, not through a certain agency," Mr Somchai said.

The CIAT said in its statement that their scientists are investigating reports that the cassava mealybug has already spread to Cambodia, Burma, Laos and Vietnam.

The outbreak of mealybugs in Thailand was confirmed last year. The bugs have destroyed at least 600,000 rai of cassava in 30 northeastern and eastern provinces, leading to a drop of cassava produce of between 20 to 29 million tonnes, a DOA report said.

Ampan Winotai, the DOA's senior entomologist and head of the wasp research project, said her team brought about 500 pairs of wasps from Benin in Africa seven months ago.

The trial release of the bugs was conducted in Rayong province under strict ecological impact control.

"Based on our trial, we have found that the wasps do not harm native insect species, such as lacewing bug, lady bird beetle, and 10 other species. The wasps eat pink mealybugs only," she said.

The wasps are not only a main predator for pink mealybugs, but the female wasps also inject their eggs into the mealybugs and feed on them, gradually reducing their population.

Unleashing 200 wasps in one rai of cassava plantation will help control the mealybugs population for six months, the entomologist said.

The DOA expects to release at least one million wasps to the cassava farms over the next two months.

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