Plans Being Put in Place to Revitalize Coconut Industry


The Coconut Industry Board (CIB) has outlined plans to make coconut production a sustainable enterprise, despite the ravages of the Lethal Yellowing disease.
More than a million trees have been destroyed by the disease since 1997. Lethal Yellowing is caused by a type of bacteria which attacks many species of palms, including the coconut. The phytoplasmas (bacteria with a wall-less cell) reside in the phloem tissue of the plant and are transmitted from plant to plant by insects. The phloem tissue lies just below the bark, and is responsible for the transportation of food, water and nutrients.
The ‘Sustainable Coconut Production through Control of Coconut Lethal Yellowing Programme’ includes production, expansion and disease control components and is being funded through the provision of $20 million from the United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Common Fund for Commodities. The initiative is outlined in the CIB’s 2008 plan of action.
A project to replace 25,000 coconut trees in St. Thomas and Portland, the areas most impacted by Lethal Yellowing, began in January of this year. Under the Tree Replacement Programme, diseased trees are removed and burnt, and new disease-free seedlings planted. Eligible registered farmers should receive $500 per tree in compensation under the three-month project, which was undertaken at a cost of $10 million.
Details of the re-planting programme were announced by Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, J.C. Hutchinson in his Sectoral Presentation on May 21.
In the 13 years since the newest outbreak, the Lethal Yellowing disease has affected all of the locally grown cultivars of coconut – including those once thought resistant. Since that time, the CIB has been working with several organisations including the University of the West Indies (UWI), to come up with ways of controlling the disease. So far UWI researchers have identified two possible insect carriers – the Myndus crudus, a leaf hopper and the Derbids (an insect that lives under the bark of the tree).
The action plan notes, that while transmission studies have identified the possible vectors, they have not provided successful options for fighting the disease. The new CIB Board has opted for the more aggressive approach of cutting down and replanting trees as a more direct and effective way to control and perhaps eradicate Lethal Yellowing.
The CIB’s sustainability programme also focuses on the expansion of coconut production into other areas of the island. Mr. Hutchinson also announced that an additional 100,000 coconut seedlings will be planted primarily in the traditional growing areas of St. Thomas, Portland and St. Mary. Forty thousand of the seedlings will be planted in other selected areas across the island.
At the end of 2007, Jamaica had 24,857 hectares, amounting to just over 3.3 million coconut trees in production, a one per cent decline from 2006.
The programme also provides for the establishment of a technical advisory group, a regional network to facilitate collaboration between countries affected by the disease; development of a list of candidate coconut cultivars to be introduced in Jamaica; an improved programme for identifying durable resistance to coconut lethal yellowing and the sourcing of 5,000 Brazilian seed nuts for field testing.
There are also plans for the collection and testing of disease samples from Jamaica as well as other parts of the region; the expansion of the screening programme for alternative host plants; screening for potential insect vectors and the presence of the phytoplasma by way of molecular testing, as well as a study of the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the disease in selected areas.

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