CO­COA CLAM­P­DOWN

Disease trig­gers ban on trans­port of pods, plants

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Christo­pher Serju Gleaner Writer christo­pher.serju@glean­erjm.com

THE IN­TER-AMER­I­CAN In­sti­tute for Co­op­er­a­tion on Agri­cul­ture (IICA) will con­tinue to pro­vide tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to the Min­istry of In­dus­try, Com­merce, Agri­cul­ture and Fish­eries to con­trol and erad­i­cate the highly con­ta­gious frosty pod rot co­coa disease.

In­de­pen­dent con­fir­ma­tion of the disease in Ja­maica, a first for the Caribbean, was com­mu­ni­cated to the Gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day by the Cen­tre for Agri­cul­ture and Bios­cience In­ter­na­tional (CABI) out of the United King­dom, trig­ger­ing an emer­gency press con­fer­ence at the min­istry’s of­fices in New Kingston.

“This is a se­ri­ous out­break,” Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Karl Sa­muda said as he dis­closed that a na­tion­wide quar­an­tine on the trans­porta­tion of co­coa pods, seedlings, cut­tings, or any other plant ma­te­rial is in ef­fect. This is de­spite the fact that the disease has only been con­firmed from a sam­ple from a farm in Claren­don.

In ef­fect, this means, among other things, that un­less the chief plant quar­an­tine of­fi­cer gives some­one writ­ten per­mis­sion to do so, a per­son who op­er­ates a co­coa or­chard shall not move or sell any co­coa pods within or out­side the par­ish in which that or­chard is sit­u­ated. Such ex­treme ac­tion is nec­es­sary be­cause though the spores of this disease, caused by the fun­gus Monil­io­ph­thora roreri, are usu­ally dis­persed by wind or wa­ter, they are far more likely to be spread by hu­man ac­tiv­ity.

UN­LIM­ITED PO­TEN­TIAL FOR DAM­AGE

For this rea­son, re­searchers have de­scribed it as a disease with a lim­ited geo­graphic range but un­lim­ited po­ten­tial for dam­age.

“The spores of the frost pod can ac­tu­ally be spread via hu­man clothes, hair, etc, and that’s why this or­der is ac­tu­ally im­por­tant be­cause it’s a highly con­ta­gious disease. Not ev­ery plant disease is spread by hu­man ac­tiv­ity, and this makes this [one] a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent, so we need the en­tire coun­try to re­spond. Tell us where it is so we can ef­fect the nec­es­sary mea­sures ur­gently,” San­niel Wil­son, chief plant quar­an­tine of­fi­cer/pro­duce in­spec­tor, told The Gleaner.

The disease was first con­firmed lo­cally af­ter a farmer in Claren­don no­ticed a strange fun­gal growth un­like any­thing he had ever seen be­fore and re­ported it to the Co­coa In­dus­try Board.

There­after, with the in­de­pen­dent con­fir­ma­tion by CABI, the Gov­ern­ment re­ported the mat­ter to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in keep­ing with its obli­ga­tions un­der the In­ter­na­tional Plant Pro­tec­tion Con­ven­tion.

This was de­spite only one con­firmed case in the par­ish where 70 per cent of Ja­maica’s co­coa cul­ti­va­tion takes place.

But this is a crop that is cul­ti­vated com­mer­cially in 13 of the is­land’s 14 parishes – Manch­ester be­ing the ex­cep­tion.

Wil­son ex­plained: “Be­cause of the na­ture of the spread of the disease, we had to de­clare the coun­try in­fested un­til we could iden­tify specif­i­cally in what parishes there are re­ports or sus­pected cases.”

How­ever, Dr El­iz­a­beth John­son, the IICA rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Ja­maica, un­der­scored the im­por­tance of a proper path­way analysis to de­ter­mine how the disease got to Ja­maica in the first place as a crit­i­cal com­po­nent in de­ter­min­ing the ef­fec­tive con­trol and erad­i­ca­tion strat­egy.

“It can be con­trolled,” John­son, an agron­o­mist with spe­cialised train­ing in crop sci­ence and biotech­nol­ogy and who has done ex­ten­sive re­search in molec­u­lar ge­net­ics, as­sured those in at­ten­dance at the press con­fer­ence.

“There are a num­ber of op­tions; how­ever, we need to first have a good and clear pic­ture of what we’re deal­ing with to put the ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion in place. When we ac­tu­ally have an idea of the scope of the spread, then we can fi­nalise the best ac­tion for this par­tic­u­lar pest in Ja­maica,” she said.

PHO­TOS BY CHRISTO­PHER SERJU

San­niel Wil­son, chief plant quar­an­tine of­fi­cer/pro­duce in­spec­tor, speaks about the im­por­tance of the im­me­di­ate ban on the trans­porta­tion of co­coa pods, seedlings, cut­tings, or any other plant-re­lated ar­ti­cles, dur­ing yes­ter­day's emer­gency press con­fer­ence at the of­fices of the Min­istry of In­dus­try, Com­merce, Agri­cul­ture and Fish­eries in New Kingston. Also shar­ing in the oc­ca­sion are Dr El­iz­a­beth John­son, coun­try rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the In­ter-Amer­i­can In­sti­tute for Co­op­er­a­tion on Agri­cul­ture, and Leroy Grey, sec­re­tary man­ager of the Co­coa In­dus­try Board.

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