A Parys company is selling a 'cure' for the pest that is killing Joburg’s urban forest – while government investigates its ‘false’ claims
- The polyphagous shothole borer is killing trees around the country, with the urban forest in Johannesburg under threat of losing thousands of trees.
- A Parys company, Pan African Farms, is offering what it calls a cure to kill the borer and its symbiotic fungus, and says it has been inundated with inquiries since media attention last month.
- But the product has not been tested for toxicity – and the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries says it is investigating the company’s “false” claims.
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A tiny beetle, and the fungus it carries with it, is threatening thousands of trees around the country in cities, agricultural orchards, and native forests.
There is a new “cure” for the problem, which has been approved by government and is now in use. But it has not been independently scientifically shown to be non-toxic, and the company selling it is now under investigation.
The 2mm-long polyphagous shothole borer, which is native to South-east Asia, bores into the trees and deposits a fungus, which - depending on the tree species and its health - can kill the tree. It has been in eight provinces so far, with only Limpopo in the clear at the moment.
A Parys-based company, Pan African Farms, claims to have a cure for the beetle and its fungus. CEO Piet Meyer says he stumbled across the solution when he was trying to find a remedy for his psoriasis, a skin condition, which is now in remission. Since media interest last month, he says, his company has been “inundated” with interest. One arborist is treating 200 trees a day with Pan African's cure, he says.
However, scientists have concerns that the "cure" had not undergone rigorous scientific testing in a real-world setting. Wilhelm de Beer, a fungal biologist at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, warned the idea that a cure exists could also hamper the funding needed to fight the beetle.
Meyer says that the constituent ingredients in his product are not toxic, and so neither is the final fungicide – but this has not been tested.
“We’re talking here about an emergency,” he says. “[The law] has an emergency protocol which allows you to get approval on the basic proof that the stuff works and, thereafter, you have two or three years time in which to submit conclusive evidence of toxicity.”
The law in question governs agricultural crops, but not necessarily trees grown in residential areas.
When asked for details of who within the department signed off on the product, whether Pan African Farms had in fact been granted an emergency waiver, and whether the product had been tested for safety, the department of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries responded only: “Please note that the department is still busy investigating the false claims made by the applicant.”
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