Tree farmers are grappling with an outbreak of Thaumastocoris peregrinus or bronze bug, which has threatened to destroy their plants, which are a major source of income.
Farmers in Musanze and Gisagara districts, particularly those who grow eucalyptus trees to sell, say they are incurring losses in millions of francs after their trees were destroyed by the pest.
Ephraim Ntakirutimana a tree farmer, told Rwanda Today that three weeks ago, he counted around 250 trees that had been damaged after they were attacked by the insects and were drying off.
“We earn a living from selling trees and we invest a lot of money into it because of irrigation.
But so far, the bronze bugs have mainly attacked young growing trees. I fear they may spread to the entire plantation leading to huge losses,” said Mr Ntakirutimana.
According to a 2016 report by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority, the pest was first detected in the country in 2013 during the eucalyptus plant materials exchange.
The pest is reported to destroy extensive leaf tissue, often giving it a bronze tint, turning it yellow, red, and then brown to tan. Damage from the bronze bug eventually leads to leaf loss, canopy thinning, branch dieback, and even tree death Joseline Musabyemaria, a tree farmer, said the pests attacked her trees before they could mature, leading to losses.
“We need government intervention to save us from losses and extreme poverty,” she said, adding, “The Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority advises us to uproot our plantations and plant new species that are resistant to the pests.”
“We do not advise farmers to use any of the pesticides meant to fight the insects because they are more dangerous to the entire environment than they are to the trees,” said Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority Prime Ngabonziza.
Mr Ngabonziza advised farmers to comply with advises given to them by District Forestry officials and Sector Forest technicians on how to protect their forests and fight bronze bug without using insecticides.
“We have started giving out better tree species to farmers for reafforestation,” he said.