Farmers in Antigua have been experiencing the gruesome effects of the leaf hoppers pest which for now is mainly targeting okra, sorrel and eggplant crops.
All five of the Agricultural Districts are being affected, which include; South Central, North East, North West and South East and the South West District.
This pest sucks the sap out of the leaves thus disturbing the flow of water and nutrients in the leaves.
As a result of this, the leaf margins or the entire leaf turn light and pale and eventually dry out affecting not just the appearance of the plant but the production.
A Farmer for 20 years in the Sandersons Area, Andy David explained that the leaf hoppers has been gravely affecting the production of okra on his farm as it has drastically cut the yield of the plants.
Mr. David explained that he has had to rely on chemicals to deal with the infestation, however, that too has posed a challenge as there is a lack of availability of certain chemicals on the island.
Mr. David is grateful for the visits and investigations being done by the Extension Division as they try to find a solution before the matter gets worse and spreads.
Mr. David explained that he was both heartened and disappointed to find out that the issue can be dealt just by releasing natural predators which they can do but due to the lack of funding they are unable to do so.
“I am heartened that there is a remedy that can be used naturally which at the same time would be less costly because we wouldn’t have to buy the chemicals and be healthier because we wouldn’t have to spray with chemicals and I am disappointed that just for the lack of funding something like that can’t get off the ground,” explained Mr. David.
South-East District Officer, Craig Joseph explained that the leaf hoppers have been identified in this district and in the visit to the Walley Brown Farm, where it is very obvious that the leaves for the okra plants were turning yellow. He says that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs has embarked on a program to identify the pests in the different districts and come up with feasible solutions to tackle the problem.
District Officer, Joel Matthew explained that the Extension Officer would have done a detection survey on farms that produce okra on a large scale. Mr. Matthew explained that as they entered his field, they observed clear signs of the leaf hoppers.
In their investigation they looked to see the population of the pests and it was not as high as they thought it to be as Mr. David had been using chemicals to control the infestation which they were pleased to see.
Mr. Matthew agreed that there are other natural means that this can be controlled apart from the use of chemicals and as a long-term effect it would be less costly but it is something that the Extension will urgently revisit given the current infestation issue in many of the farming districts.