Insight – Urgent actions to protect Australia against khapra beetle

Khapra beetle is a serious, highly invasive insect that is not present in Australia. It poses a major threat to Australia’s primary production, biosecurity, and environment. Khapra beetle is a pest of grains, dried fruit, rice, and nuts; however, it can stowaway as a hitchhiker on a wide range of cargo. Infestations have been found in a range of commodities including refrigerators, packaging for baby highchairs and plastic beads. 

Recently, there have been several detections of khapra beetle at Australian ports in products originating from Southeast Asia. All importers need to be vigilant for container contamination to prevent Khapra beetle or other hitchhiker pest incursions.

Trade implications for exporters

Australia is free of khapra beetle. This is important to our agricultural sector for two main reasons:

  1. Freedom from khapra beetle makes Australia a preferred exporter to other khapra-beetle-free countries.
  2. Our khapra beetle free status is integral in maintaining access to international markets. Seven out of our top ten grain markets report freedom from khapra beetle. If khapra beetle became established domestically, access to these markets may be lost or restricted.

Minimising the risk to Australian agriculture

The Australian Government is implementing urgent actions to minimise the risk of khapra beetle entering Australia. The urgent actions are being implemented in phases and will result in changes to import conditions for plant products and sea containers. These actions include:

  • Offshore treatment of sea containers packed in a khapra beetle target risk country that will be unpacked in a rural grain growing area of Australia.
  • Offshore treatment of sea containers packed with high-risk plant products in khapra beetle target risk countries.
  • Offshore treatment of high-risk plant products exported from a khapra beetle target risk country.
  • Banning imports of high-risk plant products within unaccompanied personal effects and low value freight.
  • Banning imports of high-risk plant products within accompanied baggage, via international travellers or mail articles.

To date, Australia’s biosecurity system has successfully prevented the pest becoming established domestically.  

When exporting from or importing to Australia, its essential to use shipping companies that have processes in place to minimise the risk of contamination with khapra beetle. It’s essential to:

  • Maintain cleanliness, both in containers, storage areas and when packing goods in the containers.
  • Use higher-grade containers. For example, containers with no cracks in the floorboards to reduce the risk of sheltering pests.
  • Take extra precautions when shipping containers are coming from high-risk countries or contain high-risk products. For example, inspecting the cargo at port, or checking the shipping container prior to loading.

Market overview

  • Australia produced $11.87 billion of grain in 2019-20 (gross value of production), 60% of which was exported.
  • Australia’s largest grain export markets are: China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Rep. of Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Yemen. Seven of these countries are free from khapra beetle.
  • In 2018–19, dried grape production (sultana, currants, and raisins) had an estimated value of $30 million, with exports comprising of over 80%.
  • In 2019-2020, the nut industry exported more than $1 billion worth of nuts including almonds, macadamia nuts and other tree nuts.
  • Global container shipping volume reached 775 million container units in 2020, an increase from 622 million units in 2012.
  • The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has identified increased global trade volumes as a key risk to Australia’s biosecurity.
  • The Australian Government is committed to the continuous improvement of our biosecurity against hitchhiker pests like khapra beetle with a $97 million investment in the 2021-2022 budget.

Resources

This article is based on information provided by the Australian Government’s network of Agriculture Counsellors. Additional information about the Agriculture Counsellor network, including contact details, are available on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment website.

Further information about khapra beetle is available on the department’s website, including a poster outlining 7 tips to keep sea containers clean. To improve the public’s understanding and support the implementation of the khapra beetle urgent actions, we have developed two short videos on: the risks of khapra beetle and sea container cleanliness.

Background on Khapra beetle

  • Khapra beetle is a pest that is found mainly in Southern and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
  • Khapra beetles feed on dried plant and animal products with a preference for grain and stored products.
  • Cast skins and hair from the larvae poses health risks, causing stomach, breathing and skin irritation issues.

The current spread of khapra beetle is shown in the map below.
Khapra Beetle map
*Map produced with data from DAWE