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The importance of biosystematics has again been underscored by the Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) of the Ministry of Agriculture, through a mealybug and scale insects identification workshop, which opened on (January 7), in Kingston.
Biosystematics is the science through which life forms are discovered, identified, described, named, classified and catalogued, with their diversity, life histories, living habits, roles in an ecosystem and spatial and geographical distributions, recorded. The week-long workshop, which is being staged in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), is critical in light of the introduction of exotic pests to the region, and their impact on the environment and agriculture. Addressing the opening ceremony, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Donovan Stanberry said the protection of agriculture, in terms of safeguarding plant health, was very important to the continued development of the agricultural sector. “That’s why we have a very strong plant quarantine division and that’s why we have sought to partner with IICA and USDA to ensure that we minimize the risk of introducing diseases and pests through our ports of entry, and once we discover that they are here, we move with sufficient alacrity to combat the problem,” he said.
This, he emphasized, demands a well-trained cadre of staff that, “will not panic at the onset of any pests coming in, but has a well-worked out plan and knows exactly what to do to minimize the impact as soon as we discover these things; and we need a well co-ordinated communication strategy, because as good as we think we are as scientists, our efforts (alone) cannot curtail the spread of anything like the pink mealy bug.”
Mr. Stanberry stressed that success in curtailing infestation depends heavily on the co-operation of farmers and unsuspecting persons who move plants from one place to another. “Public education is going to be very important,” the Permanent Secretary said.He welcomed the workshop, as well as all other international assistance. Meanwhile, Animal and Plant Health Specialist with the USDA’s area office, Russell Duncan, emphasized the importance of these types of activities and the need for Ministries of Agriculture in the Caribbean to train young scientists in the identification of insects. “The first line of defence is your agricultural system, and in getting correct identification quickly, you will be able to move forward on mitigation,” he said, noting that the week of training would be intensive, based on the needs which were expressed by the Ministry. In her remarks, IICA Representative in Jamaica, Cynthia Currie said the export market was very lucrative for Jamaica and in light of this, workshops such as these were critical.
“When we have the first signal that there is a disease or a pest coming into the country, which can devastate our agricultural economy, it is so important that people of the country be able to identify that very quickly, because if we don’t, we know what could happen. So, having this type of workshop here, having professionals training local people and people from across the Caribbean, is absolutely crucial,” she said. Chairman of the Plant Health Co-ordinating Committee, Dr. Lisa Myers informed that the workshop would include field collection; discussions on mealy bugs and the importance of doing proper identification; mealy bug morphology; and diagnostics using digital technology. An evaluation will be done at the end of the period.
The workshop, which has participants from countries across the region, including the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti, is led by entomologists, Gregory Hodges of the Florida Department of Agriculture; Dr. Lyle Buss of the University of Florida; and Dr. Gregory Evans of the USDA.