Date Palm, the perennial fruit plant has been extensively cultivated globally. It is most instant source of energy due to higher concentration of carbohydrates in its fruit.
According to FAO report, Pakistan is the 6th largest producer and 4th largest exporter of dates in the world with annual production of around 535,000 tons. Sindh accounts the major date palm production 47.2% followed by Baluchistan 40.4%, Punjab 10.1% and NWFP only 0.3%. Per acre production of dates in our country is low as compare to its potential, due to unsustainable pest management, delays harvesting and poor harvesting practice. The list of top five date producing countries includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE and Pakistan by contributing over 60% of the global date production.
The tree of ancient times, Date Palm has ability to withstand under harsh conditions but now is at risk due to Red Palm Weevil (RPW). It is the most obnoxious pest of palms devastating up to 20-50% economic losses. It is geologically distributed in all countries of southern, western Asia, America, Africa and Middle East poses serious threat to date palm cultivation.
Due to its dramatic prevalence and severe infestation level, FAO has declared Red Palm Weevil (RPW) category-1 pest. Unfortunately date palm cultivation in Pakistan is at stake due presence of this detrimental pest. It is a voracious and most prophylactic insect with estimated multiplication capacity of a single female that may give birth to about ﬁve million weevils in four generations, within 14 months. Grubs are the most are damaging stage which remains confined within tree trunk, exploiting the stem vascular system resultantly lead to the tree collapse.
The following symptoms are caused by the red palm weevil on palm trees: (i) Tunnel formation on the trunk and base of leaf petiole; (ii) Oozing out of thick brownish fluid from the tunnels; (iii) Chewed up appearance of plant tissues, with fermented odor around the orifice of tunnels; (iv) Dried offshoot emerging from the leaf bases; (v) Chewing sounds of the grubs; (vi) Breaking of the trunk or toppling infestation and (vii) Fallen empty pupal cases. Several measures are used to annihilate this pest population below threshold level. Contrariwise the enigmatic and concealed nature of RPW has been proved a major constraint in management strategies.
Regrettably, pest monitoring and surveillance shows that date palm cultivations in Punjab and Sindh are severely suffering from RPW attack. Additionally, due to low price of date palm brought from Sakhar and Khairpur for ornamental purposes in cities/housing colonies are generally infested and lead to wide spread of RPW. Consequently these infested palms will serve as sanctuaries cause devastation of palm plantation in the province.
Our date palms cultivation is facing ravaging episodes of this notorious pest, so it is dire need of time for the government to take serious initiative to cope with this notorious insect pest and to declare it as a Quarantine Pest. Immediately, the purchase of the palms from Sindh and KPK should be strictly monitored to ensure the entry of infestation free palms. Extension department of Agriculture sector should map out the strategies to aware date palm cultivating community about the infestation and control plans of RPW. Furthermore, the detailed survey of date palm growing districts should be carried out to determine the level of damage and estimate the population of RPW. Additionally, the Task Force including scientists and experts should be constituted at government level to manage this insect pest and to save the date palms in this region.