The Research and Development Division (RDD) of the Ministry of Agriculture has put measures in place to eradicate three of the pests and viruses, which affect hot pepper, a non-traditional crop, which contributes more than US$1 million to the economy.
The initiatives, which are being undertaken at an annual cost of some $500,000, comprise tackling the pepper gall midge, broad mite and tobacco etch virus, which affect hot pepper. “We are doing the research and we are collaborating with other institutions and agencies in solving the problem,” said Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr. Lisa Myers. She informed that the RDD has conducted some specific chemical trials to determine, which chemicals were both environmentally friendly and effective against the pests.Meanwhile, Phillip Chung, Acting Zonal Director for the Rural Agricultural Development Authority’s (RADA) Eastern Zone, heads a task force formed to address the gall midge pest. One of the initiatives formulated is the fumigation of peppers.
RADA’s role is to conduct an islandwide survey to ascertain the spread of gall midge, which Dr. Myers reported as having lessened in population, but nonetheless fumigation was still practised, in order for the United States (US) to accept hot pepper from Jamaica. “It is a quarantine pest which does not cause damage in the field but because the US said they did not have that particular species, and to restrict its entry, farmers had to fumigate peppers prior to export,” Dr. Myers pointed out. Another purpose to the survey, Mr. Chung said, “was to find any areas in the island where the gall midge pest does not occur, because under the World Trade Organization (WTO), there is a clause which states that a pest free area can be designated a ‘pest free area’, and as such does not need the fumigation treatment that is required for infested areas”. Unfortunately, no such area was found, and so Mr. Chung believes that suppressing the pest population in the field significantly would help reduce the incidence of pest hitchhikers for export. In order to educate farmers in this area of pest reduction, Mr. Chung said RADA is training farmers in group sessions.
Chief Technical Director in the Ministry of Agriculture, Don McGlashan, also mentioned that, “if fields are scouted early in terms of the life cycle of the gall midge, you should be able to control them with the use of fairly friendly pesticides.” For the broad mite pest, Dr. Myers explained that the Plant Protection Unit was looking at developing thresholds to determine the level at which farmers could tolerate mite density before applying chemical treatment. Hence, “weekly treatment and spending unnecessarily on chemicals can be avoided if the mite population stays below the threshold,” she explained. In addition to this measure, the team is co-relating the level of mite damage to the number of days the pest is on the plant.
Mr. McGlashan added that an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach was also being taken to control the broad mite, where the pest was observed, environmentally friendly pesticides recommended when necessary and if the field was not large, some selective spraying of the plants could be done. In addition to what the Ministry of Agriculture is doing to control broad mite, Mr. McGlashan has urged farmers to, “be clinical in their observation and extend themselves in receiving information and understanding of what needs to be done.”
Meanwhile, the spread of the tobacco etch virus has promoted the RDD to breed a virus resistant scotch bonnet pepper, Dr. Myers told JIS News. She credited Mr. McGlashan for initiating the development of the scotch bonnet cross, which has resistance to the virus. The virus cannot be cured and is transmitted by aphids.
Speaking about the advanced work in developing resistant varieties or cultivars of scotch bonnet, Mr. McGlashan told JIS News that, “collaboration has been done with a seed company in the United States, which is doing genetic work for the Division and, very soon we should be releasing a Scotch bonnet cultivar, resistant to the virus, having qualities similar to Scotch bonnet in terms of shape, flavour and pungency.” He informed that, “we would have already released an open-pollinated cultivar were it not for Hurricane Ivan, but we will release it to farmers later in the year.” In addition to the scotch bonnet variety being identified, “this year we should be able to release a cultivar, a red scotch bonnet looking pepper, which will be good for the processing industry,” he informed.
Noting that hot pepper has a high-earning export crop, Dr. Myers pointed out that, “anything that will limit the production and export of this crop warrants investigation.” In addition to the annual allocation to the RDD to tackle the problem, Dr. Myers said, “we rely a lot on collaborative work with other agencies so that the resources available can be properly utilized.”
Funds have also been received from international groups such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). The battle against these pepper diseases has been ongoing for the past five years and the projects and activities have been projected for another three or five years until the constraints affecting pepper production have come to a satisfactory resolution. The latest directive to come from the Ministry is to identify an alternative to the US-required fumigation, as the farmers and exporters are complaining that fumigation changes the quality of the hot pepper geared for export. As a result, growers are not exporting as much. The RDD has been given a mandate to find a compromise between what the United States Department of Agriculture requires and what growers are able to implement.