Macadamia and avocado growers at war

Macadamia orchard in the Lowveld

MBOMBELA – The macadamia industry needs to develop a monitoring system to accurately measure damage done by primates in orchards.

“Primates all over the world cause damage to agricultural crops and the higher the nutritive value the more intense the damage.”

This is according to Dave Pepler, nature conservationist involved in the Baboon damage Working Group, and also television presenter of an environmental programme on KykNet.

Dave Pepler, member of the Baboon Damage Working Group.

Dave Pepler, member of the Baboon Damage Working Group.

 

Mpumalanga farmers of macadamia and avocado recently met at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in Mbombela to discuss threats to the macadamia and avocado harvests. They invited Dave Pepler as a guest speaker to the function.

He warned against any quick fixes. The damage to orchards could be visible and even substantial, but before any management decision is taken to stop damages, the damage should be quantified.

Farmers must also not think that they can “trick” baboons or monkeys, because they are primates with advanced learning abilities.

A member of the South African Subtropical Growers’ Association, and working at the ARC, Barry Christie, warns that just chasing a group of baboons or monkey’s out of one orchard with vuvuzela’s or flags, will just make them move the the next orchard.

“The one’s win becomes the other one’s defeat,” says Christie. He also remarked that not all groups of baboons and monkey’s are culprits.

Agricultural Research Council in Mbombela

Agricultural Research Council in Mbombela

The easiest or simplest way to exclude primates from the orchards is by means of electric fencing, but it can become quite costly.

Dave Pepler mentions other and more scaring methods to keep primates out of orchards, like patrols, dogs, chemical manipulation of the crop and even lethal control.

“Whichever solution is considered, it is imperative that this decision is based on accurate data and not on hearsay and superficial impressions. Primates are special animals in terms of their relationships to humans and are charismatic. Any management programme needs to realise that it must take every possible precaution in ensuring that this approach is transparent, ethically sound and participatory.”

Although stories are abound about farmers catching primates in traps and then killing them by whatever means possible, Dave Pepler warns against this.

“Information about killing the primates in a cruel manner, can lead to legal charges of animal cruelty and it will also mean that the public will loose all the sympathy they might have experienced before.”

There were also other threats that damaged macadamia production, which include the stink bug as well as theft.

The damage by theft is just like the damage from primates, immediately noticeable, but the damage from the stink bug is only visible once the nuts were on the sorting tables.

Dave Pepler said that he was surprised by the scale of damage these seemingly insignificant little bugs can cause.

It is estimated that there only lives one bug in a single tree.

During a discussion about solutions against stink bug infestation, the possibility was mentioned to try to lure these insects into traps using very recent scientific findings on the chemical attractants of insects. “The search is also on for the natural host plants of this insect, which may make its management near orchards much easier.”

Pepler said that both historic herbarium data and modern satellite imaging will be sued in this search for a solution.

The stink bug infestation for this year stands on 5.6% or at least R80 million direct loss to the industry as far as macadamia production is concerned.

The calculated loss in the avocado production was approximately 3%.

South Africa is the world’s biggest macadamia producer and delivered 40,000 tons for 2013.

Ending the meeting Dave Pepler said what is good for the industry is good for the individual and that it doesn’t work the other way round.

Monkey enjoying an avo

Monkey enjoying an avo

 

His parting words to the meeting were:

“But whatever you do, do not kill the alpha male, because testosterone will be abound and unchecked mating will result in a huge rise in either baboon or monkey population.”

Although the macadamia and avocado farmers do not have solutions for the three major threats to production, baboon and monkey damage, stink bugs and theft, they are working on it and they hope that the next season, starting in April 2015, will have better results.

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