Top international experts from Finland, Colombia, Australia, the US and Southeast Asia discussed methods to control invasive mealybug infestation on cassava and other plants at a three-day workshop, that concluded on December 11 in Ho Chi Minh City.

Dried cassava chips and starch are one of Vietnam's top 10 key export products.

Cassava is the third-largest source of calories after rice and maize in Southeast Asia. It is used as a food, animal feed and starch processing, and currently the main raw material for bio-fuel and bio-film processing.

Kris Wyckhuys, lead entomologist in Asia for the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), said Southeast Asian cassava crops were historically pest-free until 2008 when a highly destructive pest of cassava, Phenacoccus manihoti, was discovered in Thailand and then in neighboring countries.

Other kinds of invasive mealybugs were also affecting cassava crops in parts of the region.

"Invasive pests come in many forms, and sometimes we don't know exactly what they are and where they are," he said.

The workshop in Ho Chi Minh City is the first one held to tackle the region's threat of invasive mealybug pests.

It was orgainsed by CIAT, the Institute of Agricultural Sciences of Southern Vietnam, the Plant Protection Research Institute and the Plant Protection Department. and supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The workshop aims to raise awareness about the invasive mealybug threat, equip local researchers with practical training in species identification, and learn about mealybug ecology, Wyckhuys said.

It is hosting academic talks, field visits, hands-on training and presentations on mealybug taxonomy and identification.

Ngo Quang Vinh, deputy director of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences for Southern Vietnam, said Vietnam had seen a big jump in cassava production in recent years, with currently the highest yield in the world.

However, cassava production in Vietnam, like other countries in the region, is facing a problem of disease and insects.

"Among them, invasive mealybugs are the most dangerous," he said.

"Last year, it occurred first in Tay Ninh province, which has the largest cassava area, and then it spread to many other provinces," he said.

Although measures were taken, the results were limited, he added.

"The impact of mealybugs in Vietnam could be devastating if we do not act now," Kris Wyckhuys, said.

Ngo Tien Dung of the Plant Protection Deaprtment said mealybugs had become more widespread, affecting many plants, including cassava, custard apple, papaya, pineapple, sugarcane, citrus fruit and others.

"Farmers' practices of using pesticides are ineffective, and lead to more severe outbreaks. The abuse of chemicals is also hazardous for food safety and affects the environment," Dung said.-VNA