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A national plant health policy has been drafted by the Ministry of Agriculture to mitigate and avoid pest incursions, protect the health of people, plants, food supplies and livelihood, and save the country millions of dollars in the process.
This adds to other measures being undertaken, and policies that have been amended to protect Jamaica’s agricultural sector and ecosystems, including the newly drafted fisheries policy.
Jamaica has spent approximately $8 million in the past 2 years to effectively manage a pink hibiscus mealy bug incursion. Moko disease resulted in destruction of large acreages of bananas in 2004, leading to a decline in the sector, export income, and a livelihood for farmers. Similarly the lethal yellowing disease has devastated the coconut industry.
More recently the red palm mite, which further threatens the coconut industry and puts other species of palms in jeopardy, has required risk management strategies, incurring additional costs.
Dr. Lisa Myers, chairperson of the plant health coordinating committee, which is spearheading development of the national plant health policy, says that, to date, ministry officials are uncertain about the pathways through which the pink hibiscus mealy bug entered Jamaica.
She says these pathways can be many, including commercial and casual imports of plants and plant products, packaging material, humans, baggage, mail, aircraft, and ships: in other words, anything that is involved with the movement of people and goods.
She said that, in many instances, persons who evade surveillance systems to smuggle even a tiny cutting for their back garden, put the country at grave risk. Authorities feel that the pink hibiscus mealy bug may have entered Jamaica in this manner, as it emerged as an urban pest affecting home gardens only.
Although still demanding substantial expenditure to contain infestation, Dr. Myers explains that a commercial incursion would have been, not only more costly, but nationally and regionally devastating.
While most pests may pose no risk to humans, there are exceptions. These include the Giant African Snail, which acts as an intermediate host for rat lungworm which can infect the human brain causing paralysis, coma, and death. This pest is not currently found in Jamaica.
A secondary negative effect of pest incursions is the insurgent demand for pesticides. Excessive pesticide use can damage ecosystems, increase production costs and impact negatively on human health and nutrition. This is due to the negative impact of pesticides on soil and water quality, waste disposal, nutrient cycling and regeneration.
Pests can also impact on a country’s biodiversity leading to invasion by one species and eradication of another; disruption of habitats and loss of valuable genetic information that could support agricultural research and production. Summarily, this indicates the far reaching negative impacts that poor plant health can have on nations.
Worse affected in such instances are the farmers and rural folk, deepening poverty.
Dr. Myers told JIS news that a pink hibiscus mealy bug incursion in Trinidad in the early 1990’s, cost approximately US$18 million in the first year of introduction, and for Grenada a similar incursion led to losses estimated at US$10 million.
For Trinidad, projected loss, if the incursion had not been properly managed, could have resulted in annual expenditure of US$3.5- US$5 million. In the United States, where the pest is also found, potential losses could climb to US$750 million annually. Annual expenditure to manage the pest in the United States is estimated at US$500,000.00.
Chief Plant Quarantine Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Sheila Harvey, says that the national plant health policy adds to recent initiatives to reduce incursions such by the pink hibiscus mealy bug, and other pests. Proposed initiatives set out in the draft policy document, include establishment of a new compliance and certification unit to monitor entries at marine and other ports, as well as a pest and risk analysis unit to comply with the World Trade Organisation’s phytosanitary standards.
A recent study identified marine ports as weak areas in pest risk management for Jamaica.
The national plant policy addresses other gaps, by establishing the framework for a harmonised legislative and regulatory framework. The Pesticides Act (1975) is to be updated, to include acceptable pesticide residues for products, before they enter local and export markets.
Amendments to the Plant Quarantine Act 1993 are also proposed to designate the plant quarantine/produce inspection unit, as the national plant protection organization (NPPO), and empower the NPPO to carryout certain functions. These include issuing phytosanitary certificates, surveillance of cultivated and wild plants and inspection of plants and plant products in the import/export trade.
Appropriate legislation is also to be enacted to give legal authority to the Plant Protection Unit, RADA, and the Customs Department, to complement the services of the NPPO.
The policy will also allow for the alignment of current plant health systems with international standards and obligations; establishment of additional preventative mechanisms, promotion of more environmentally friendly plant protection strategies, and public education.
It is also proposed to establish a plant quarantine/produce inspection unit at the Ministry of Agriculture, as the designated national plant protection organisation of Jamaica.
The aim is to unite and clarify reporting relationships among agencies involved in plant health; minimize overlap; allow better sharing of information; speed-up responses and ensure that qualified resource persons are in place to respond to pest incursions. Another recommendation is the establishment of a plant health board to act in an advisory capacity to the NPPO and the Minister of Agriculture.
The new policy also allows for linkages with other relevant policy initiatives, such as the agricultural development strategy for the Ministry of Agriculture, which addresses growth and development for the sector; the food safety policy, which speaks to food safety, and traceability from producer to consumer; and the draft biosafety policy dealing with protecting Jamaicans and local biodiversity from possible adverse effects of genetically modified organisms, while allowing access to the technology.
The draft national plant health policy has been posted on the Ministry of Agriculture’s website for public input, where it will remain for the next eight weeks. This is in keeping with established criteria for public sector consultation. The policy is to be tabled in Parliament in 2009/2010 fiscal year.

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