Thursday, March 6, 2008

A bowl of poi, please -- sans escargot.

Taro farmers may well be on their way to ridding their patches of a pest that has accounted for up to 25 percent of crop losses for more than a decade.

The apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) creates holes that make taro susceptible to disease, and eats the stem off young plants, killing them before maturity.

Committed to the survival of taro farming as a business and, more importantly, as a tradition that is part of the Hawaiian culture, farmers partnered with Pacific Diesel, a Maui business that produces renewable fuels, to develop creative solutions. Farmers in Kauai have mastered an organic crop-cover technique and Pacific Biodiesel has developed a organic soil conditioner that can augment the mortality rate of snails. Both initiatives were privately funded.

Seeking grants to further the development of a strategic control plan of the apple snail, Rep. Mele Carroll introduced House Bill 3423, a measure that provides grants for research, documentation and development of newly developed controls of the invasive apple snail. The bill is still alive this session and must be approved in the Senate before going to the Governor for signing.

"We must protect kalo and the ability to farm it in the traditional way with all the tools and resources at our disposal," said Rep. Carroll. "As a community, we must spread the word about the apple snail's threat to kalo."

This in not the first attempt, nor method used, to control the invasion of snails the state. Since arriving in Hawaii to be harvested and sold as escargot to high end restaurants and local markets, taro farmers have tried hand picking snails off of plants; importing ducks to eat the snails; using electric shock methods; and creating pest-for-profit programs that would collect, harvest and sell snails to local restaurants and vendors.

None of them worked - the snails would populate quicker than farmers could pick; stray dogs killed off large portions of duck flocks; the snails survived the electric shock currents that ran through water streams; and Hawaii just didn't have a substantial market for escargot.

Photo: Like Hawaii, crops in Taiwan, China, Japan and Guam have been threatened by the apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata), originally from Argentina. (Honolulu Advertiser, "Taro production hits record low.")

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