Since they were discovered at the Port of Brisbane in 2001, red imported fire ants (RIFA) have been a problem, particularly in South-east Queensland. What has been worrying about these ants is their impact on the agricultural sector affecting the economy of the state, and the country as a whole. If the problem in the United States is anything to go by, then there is every reason for concern. The government has tried in vain to deal with these ants so far, but a new commitment by agriculture ministers could see the end of the insidious pest once and for all. This 10-year campaign is expected to eradicate the pest.
Queensland Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne acknowledged that the problem is not just a mere farmers’ problem but a threat to the economy and food security of affected states. He also acknowledged that it would need greater efforts and collaboration from various governments and agencies to fight this insidious pest. According to Minister Byrne, the proposed 10-year effort by all governments is a critical decision that will help deal with the fire ants before they are out of control. He notes that the previous attempts to fight the pest since their discovery in 2001 has proven futile and thus the need for an enlarged scale of approach. In fact, the window of opportunity to eradicate the ants has been closing and has created the need for a joint effort involving all states.
Plan for Eradicationg Fire Ants
According to Minister Byrne, every single state and territory understands the implications of failing to control and eradicate the ants. “We are putting in a large amount of effort to ensure this pest does not cover the whole of the country,” Minister Byrne said. “If we don’t do anything, it will cost us billions in the future to deal with the insect.” With reference to the United States, this is what he had to say – “if the ant became established with the density we seen in the United States, it would greatly disrupt the agriculture, it would massively disrupt our social practices, and the impact would be devastating.”
Minister Byrne also mentioned that the community must get involved in this program if success is to be achieved. “Our plan is clear, and the community will play a massive role in this campaign. We simply can’t do it without the community,” he said. He also opposed to the idea of “culture of secrecy” as proposed by the Invasive Species Council.
Ministers welcomed the findings of a review of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity, which strongly emphasizes on trade access and environmental biosecurity. According to Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the agreement made at the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum held in Melbourne was a crucial step towards the eradication of fire ants once and for all. “The additional 10-year agreement will enable for a shared eradication and containment effort by all governments” he added.
Getting the Community Involved
“All governments commit an estimated further $380 million to the plan or $411.4 million on an indexed basis” Mr Joyce said. He also called on the Queensland Government to deliver goods to eradicate the pest once and for all and make sure that the investment is wisely spent to meet the ultimate goal. The Deputy Prime Minister also announced that a steering committee would be established to oversee the program and provide increased transparency and governance. He also affirmed that committee would be steered by an independent chair to be appointed by the NBC (National Biosecurity Committee) later this year.
Mr Joyce reiterated the need to have the community involved directly in this project. He acknowledged that 70 per cent of new detections of the insidious pest over the past four years came from the public. That’s the reason why the community will be a critical player in this campaign. The Deputy Prime Minister said that the steering committee would ensure that the community and stakeholder engagement is an essential part of the program.
The Deputy Prime Minister drew an example from the US state of Texas to show the effect that red imported fire ant can have and how difficult and costly it can be to deal with once it becomes densely established.” In Texas, red imported fire ants cost an estimated $US1.2 Billion each year in medical care, damage repair and control” He said. He also mentioned the number of deaths from anaphylactic shock as a result of the RIFA’s sting.
With a 10-year fire ant eradication plan, Mr Joyce was very confident that the campaign will see south-east Queensland freed from this pest. The campaign will also eliminate the chances of the pest spreading to the rest of the country. This will be good news to farmers across SEQ and its environs. What remains is to be seen is how the campaign will be carried out and if it will meet its objectives.