Almost a year after government destroyed 200,000 citrus plants contaminated by citrus greening disease, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat assured that new resistant citrus stock has been imported from the United States and are now flourishing in the St Augustine nurseries.
In an interview, Rambharat said once the plants are ready for replanting, it will be sold to farmers at the usual cost.
Asked whether he was concerned about the high level of citrus importation coming into T&T, Rambharat said he hoped the new citrus nurseries will cater juices for local consumption.
"The citrus greening disease is going to be around for a while. But we have received from the US some more resistant species and these have been used in the nurseries. We would continue to import mainly from our regional partner Belize. The local farmers are mainly geared towards the fresh fruit market and the small juice producers," he said.
He noted that the first shipment of a resistant stock was brought into the country from Florida.
"There are about 25,000 seeds from the first shipment out of Florida. These have been planted. The nursery is the St Augustine Nurseries. I had previously said that the diseased trees there were removed and the nurseries were modified to create a more resistant environment for the development of new plants," he said.
He noted that government will continue to work with its counterparts in Florida to rebuilt the local citrus stock.
Meanwhile, Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj commended Rambharat for dealing with the citrus crisis.
"We welcome this effort because I was worried about the decimation of the citrus industry," Maharaj said.
He added however that in addition to the acquisition of planting material, the government should encourage technical cooperation to prevent the emergence of any future pests and diseases.
"We must also train farmers in early warning systems so as to prevent the spread of these diseases," Maharaj said.
He added that last year the US Comtrade statistics showed that T&T imported $39.3 million worth of orange and grapefruit juice and juice concentrates.
Saying the government must invest in the productive capacity of the local agricultural sector.
"We must organize T&T's arable lands and aquatic food resources to meet the needs of consumers. We must also grow food for processing to boost manufacturing industries," he added.
Citrus greening disease which decimated more than 100 million trees worldwide and cost growers billions of dollars was discovered in T&T earlier last year. The bacterial disease—which attacks orange, grapefruit, portugal, lime, lemon, mandarin, tangerine, tangelo, Ortanique, and other citrus trees—is called Huanglongbing (Yellow Dragon Disease), HLB or Citrus Greening. It is carried by the Asian citrus psyllid and attacks a tree’s vascular system, producing bitter fruit and eventually killing the tree. Sap-sucking psyllids that feed on an infected tree become carriers of the disease.
Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Radhica De Silva). Photos by Kristian De Silva.