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KINGSTON — Programme Manager for the Jamaica Citrus Protection Agency, Alfred Barrett is assuring that while the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has closed all citrus nurseries, as a result of the greening disease, the industry itself is not out of business.

Mr. Barrett was addressing yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House, where he outlined the rationale for closing the nurseries, and provided clarification on the matter.

“The industry continues, except that planting material has been restricted for at least two years. You are still going to be able to have oranges. Right now we are coming to the end of the orange season, so the prices (may) go up, but it’s not going to be as a result of closure of the nurseries, because any plant that would come out of a nursery now, would not come into production until maybe, another five to six years,” he said.

Mr. Barrett explained that although the first signs of the citrus greening disease surfaced in Jamaica in 2009, action was not taken immediately to close the nurseries, because they held significant stock at the time, and there was no programme for compensation to the farmers.

“So, a decision was taken to allow some of the stocks to get out. Also, what was critical to us, was a greening Order that needed to come out of the Ministry of Agriculture, and it took some time to actually get that Order done, to give the necessary framework to act, in terms of closing the nurseries,” he pointed out.

Mr. Barrett further explained that as the disease spread, the Ministry had taken the position from as early as August 2010 to protect the nurseries, as the first step in its integrated management plan against the citrus greening disease.

“All citrus nurseries were asked to stop production, so there was no more production in the nurseries, but they were given a number of months to complete the sale of the stock that was in the nurseries,” he said.

Mr. Barrett pointed out that although all stakeholders in the industry were made fully aware of the situation, and the ceasing of production, there was not enough capital in the industry at the time to establish a new nursery structure, which would protect the stock.

He noted that as surveys were carried out across the island to detect the disease, and recognising that it did not have the technical capability to fully address the problem, the Ministry at that time signed a technical co-operation programme of US$480,000 with the FAO to assist in area-wide management of the problem; improve capability to produce clean material in the nurseries; improve diagnostic capability; and carry out public education.

“So, a nursery consultant and specialist will be coming…a lab will be set up and training of the relevant ministry stakeholders will be done,” Mr. Barrett said.

In the meantime, vector control is one of the critical measures that is being taken to manage the disease.  Mr. Barrett said the source of the disease will also have to be removed, but this can only be feasible if the infection levels in the field remain low.             He explained that the disease cannot be fully eradicated, but that the levels can be reduced.  He further assured that it is safe to consume fruits from trees that have been affected by the disease.

The Ministry says the management of the citrus greening disease is crucial to the country’s $3.7 billion citrus industry, and if not properly managed, the industry could face a decrease in productivity and production of orchards; reduced earnings from citrus exports; and shortage of fruits for local consumption.

 

By ALPHEA SAUNDERS, JIS Reporter