National Specialist for the International Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in Antigua and Barbuda, Mr. Craig Thomas addressed the delegates who attended a Citrus Greening Workshop held earlier today at the Fisheries Division’s Conference Room at Point Wharf.
Citrus Greening disease which is also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), is considered to be one of most destructive diseases of citrus plants as currently, there is no cure.
Some of the symptoms of citrus greening include mottling on the leaves, poor development of the fruit, less juice and discoloration during ripening of the fruit.
Mr. Thomas noted that the emergence of pests and diseases can have a profound impact on production, the economy and development.
Thomas noted that a Plan of Action which focuses on promoting an agriculture sector that is productive, competitive and sustainable, is critical to promote safe food supply to local markets by generating, improving and applying policies for agriculture, health, food safety and quality.
It is against this backdrop that under IICA, New Medium Term Plan 2018-2022- “The Agriculture Health, Safe Food and Quality Technical Hemispheric Programme,” is able to development a programme which is basically tackling the citrus greening problem being experienced in Antigua and Barbuda.
Thomas noted that the participants were engaged in a field trip yesterday (Tues) and visited four Citrus Groves- two government stations and two private farms, and on Monday, there were able to meet key technicians and stakeholders to discuss the way forward.
The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Alfred Barret from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Citrus Division in Jamaica. He presented a number of ideas on how the citrus greening issue can be approached from a management and policy standpoint.
He also looked at the symptoms of HLB, the vector of the disease and its impact, the findings, what is being done around the world in the management of HLB and some suggestions as it relates to the management of the citrus greening disease here.
Dr. Barret who is the Citrus Protection Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and Programme Manager for the Citrus Protection Agency in Jamaica, noted that citrus greening affects production and the quality of the fruit and is believed to be a major limiting factor in citrus production, based on his observations here.
“I can see that here; when we were talking to some of the farmers yesterday you will hear it in their tone; do I invest in this thing? How am I going to be sure that I am going to be able to make back my money? that kind of thing.”
Of importance to note however is that the disease will not spread by human contact and it does not affect human health. Dr. Barret however disclosed that from their visits to various farms, they have observed symptoms of the disease and if something is not done, replanting can pose a problem. He rates the infection level here at an estimated 90 percent.
Dr. Barret said that number of factors must be taken into consideration before making recommendations on how to treat citrus greening.
The specialist noted that in most cases, a multi-faceted approach is best.
“What seems to be doing best now is an area-wide management of the vector. An area wide meaning- it makes no sense you manage it local.. So what you do, you look at all the citrus farms in the area and you will say to the farmers, we are going to be buying chemicals together, we are going to get a mist blower and we are going to get a guy to spray, so everybody will get their citrus plants sprayed in two or three days- that’s what I mean by area-wide control of the vector.”
Looking at the management of the pathogen by field scouting to include the removal of infected trees if possible and replanting clean planting material, were also suggested.
Project Coordinator in the Ministry of Agriculture, Gregory Bailey spoke on the ministry’s approach to address citrus greening.
He looked at food and nutrition security and the link to the food import bill and the nutritional benefits of citrus.
Bailey noted that food security rests on four main pillars- the availability of food, accessibility, utilization and stability.
He said that the government policy seeks to address and reduce the escalating food bill and the increasing occurrence of non-communicable diseases.
Between 2010-2017, the average national food bill per Annum was 245 million EC Dollars and according to the 2016 figure, citrus accounted for one million. He said although this may seem small, it is significant.
In terms of the nutritional aspect, citrus is associated with vitamin C which has many health benefits including antioxidant and cancer fighting properties and it also boosts the immune system. Bailey explains further.
“They are also benefits to be gained from the zest in the peel and the seeds, so while we enjoy the fruit, they make medicines from the peel, they use the skin in culinary arts and also use them to make essential oils,” Bailey disclosed.
Dr. Janil Gore-Francis, Head of the Plant Protection Unit, spoke of the experience Antigua and Barbuda has had with respect to citrus greening.
“All of us can attest to the fact that we have had citrus plants in our backyard , our grapefruit, our ranges ,tangerines and so on and over time, we realized that they were not producing as much and eventually they died…its a slow moving disease.”
In 2013 the FAO developed a project to address the situation of Citrus Greening not only in Antigua and Dr Francis explained that a similar exercise like this one was undertaken where a number of citrus varieties were examined and symptoms of the disease were found and recommendations made.
Dr. Francis noted that local production of citrus is limited.
“Most of the citrus that we use now, hardly any of it is grown in Antigua , most of it comes currently from Dominica, St. Lucia and in recent times from the US out of the states of Florida and California and this was after conducting risk assessments and all of that stuff.’
Participants who attended the workshop were drawn from the Extension Division
Forestry Division, Greencastle and Christian valley agricultural stations, Research Division
The Agriculture Development Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture Headquarters
Analytical Services Division, Ministry of Education- Agricultural Science Department, the Barbuda Council, CARDI and two participants from St. Kitts and Nevis