KINGSTON — Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton says a scientific approach to cultivation, particularly in the coconut industry, is necessary for continued sustenance and growth of the sector.
“There is significant economic value to be derived from investing in this (coconut) industry, by supporting the farmers to expand, but it has to be done in a way that maintains the best practices. It has to be scientifically driven,” he said.
The Minister was speaking at the Common Fund for Commodities’ (CFC) annual Lethal Yellowing disease research project meeting, today (May 24), at the Wyndham Hotel, in New Kingston.
Dr. Tufton said that efforts, such as the research project, not only attempts to cure or control a disease, but it also introduces a culture of science-based production, “which I think is a critical aspect of the way forward, if we are to develop and maintain a viable industry."
The Lethal Yellowing disease attacks many species of palms, including some commercially important species, such as the coconut and date palm. It is spread by the planthopper, which is native to Florida, parts of the Caribbean and Central America. Infected plants will normally die in three to six months.
Dr. Tufton said that as a result of the introduction of the research project in October 2005, there has been improvement in both the training and acquisition of equipment to combat the spread of the disease; and introduction and new testing of germplasm (a collection of genetic resources for an organism).
He noted that under the project, there has also been improved knowledge of the effects of some cultural practises engaged in by farmers; the training of officers from three participating institutions; and data collection on the nature of the pathogen, genetics of the host plant and epidemiology of the disease.
“We have seen encouraging results as a consequence of these steps that have been taken and I want to say, from the government’s perspective, how grateful we are for this project which is a work in progress. We certainly hope that we can find best practises coming from this project, but we need to continue the fight, the struggle and the efforts to ensure that we control this disease and that we find new and better methods of control,” he said.
He commended the CFC for the invaluable support in helping to fight the scourge of the Lethal Yellowing disease, adding that the Coconut Industry Board has done a magnificent job in recent times, not just in terms of the practise of trying to control the disease, but also of encouraging greater levels of production through a re-planting programme.
“I think this has had a very positive effect and will have a positive impact in years to come, as those plants mature and start to produce,” the Minister said.
The research project, which ends December 2012, is being funded by the CFC at a cost of US$2.457 million and counterpart contribution of US$2.316 million. The Coconut Industry Board was given the responsibility to manage the funds.
By ALECIA SMITH, JIS Reporter