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A project to achieve sustainable coconut production by containing the Lethal Yellowing disease, was launched today (August 10), at the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston.
Called the Sustainable Coconut Production Through Control of Coconut Lethal Yellowing Project, it is to be funded at a cost of US$4.7 million, with a US$2.4 million grant from the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) and US$2.3 million from the Jamaican government, Mexico and Honduras.
Giving the opening address, Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke thanked the CFC, noting that the project was commencing after a long gestation period.
“As we grapple with all the different problems in agriculture, one of the major problems we have had in recent times is to deal with the myriad of plant diseases. There have been devastating diseases in bananas, citrus and sugar cane, not to mention animal diseases. Lethal yellowing has been lethal as far as the coconut industry is concerned and we have been grappling with that problem,” he said.
Noting that on almost every occasion, the disease had affected the main coconut growing areas in the eastern end of the island, the Minister congratulated the Coconut Industry Board (CIB) for “the great effort that it has made in keeping the industry alive.”
Mr. Clarke said a fully developed coconut industry could provide significant opportunities, particularly for rural areas, and noted that the value added products that had been developed over time were encouraging.
“There is a great future for the industry. If we can contain those difficulties we have with lethal yellowing, it can once more be a viable industry,” the Agriculture Minister asserted, adding that “we are in for a good thing. I have confidence that the programme will be implemented and we are going to eliminate that dreaded disease. We might not be able to eradicate it, but we might be able to contain it.”
Project Manager of the CFC, Eltha Brown explained that the request for assistance to solve the problem of Lethal Yellowing in Jamaica was first directed at the CFC during an official visit of its former managing director in 2000. This assistance has been two-phased, with the CFC first financing an expert consultation in January 2002, where the key stakeholders in the production, processing, and trading of coconut were represented. Following the recommendation of this consultation, the framework was established for a longer-term project to address this issue. Thus the Sustainable Coconut Production Through Control of Coconut Lethal Yellowing project was approved in 2003.
Established in 1989, the CFC is an inter-governmental financial institution that was set up within the framework of the United Nations. Today, it has a membership of 104 countries and three inter-governmental institutions. It operates through a small Secretariat with headquarters in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. The Common Fund finances projects, which have been endorsed by one of 25 International Commodity Bodies (ICBs).
“Endorsement by an ICB is required to ensure that the project is in the interest of all stakeholders of the commodity concerned. Thus for an organization to be recognized by the CFC as an ICB, it has to be an inter-governmental organization comprising both producers and consumers of particular commodity who together represent a significant share of international trade in the commodity concerned,” Miss Brown explained.
In addition to submitting projects, ICBs also provide technical supervision over the implementation of the project. The ICB for coconut is the FAO’s Intergovernmental Group on Oil Seeds, Oils and Fats.
The Common Fund finances commodity development projects, which are aimed at benefiting developing countries. Projects funded usually fall into three broad categories that include: improving productivity, adding value by processing, and expanding markets. “The Fund looks at projects from the perspective of the commodity as a whole. This commodity focus means that all projects address general and strategic problems of a particular commodity so that a number of projects can participate in or benefit from the project and its results,” she told the gathering.
Jamaica has already lost close to one million coconut trees due to the current outbreak of the Lethal Yellowing disease. In his presentation on the history of the coconut industry in Jamaica and the status of coconut yellowing, Researcher with the Coconut Industry Board, Dr. Wayne Myrie explained that in seeking to cope with the disease before 1961, attempts were made to control it by isolation, felling, burning and quarantine and emphasis was placed on replanting exercises. It was after 1961 that external assistance was sought and obtained by the CIB. Since then, the Board has funded all research activities in the main areas of plant pathology, botany and agronomy.
As part of today’s coping measures, he said farmers are encouraged to plant in Lethal Yellowing free areas, inter-crop and conduct good cultural practices, such as weed control and removal of infected trees immediately, and replant.
“The way forward is to do more research on the disease and pathogen, to identify vectors or the vector, screen germ plasm for resistance against Lethal Yellowing disease, do fingerprinting of ecotypes and try to identify resistant markers to the lethal yellowing disease,” Dr. Myrie informed. Currently, some 8,000 farmers produce coconuts on 13,500 hectares. The current farm population is 3.3 million coconut palms, producing 97.4 million nuts valued at $1.36 billion in 2004. Coconut is mainly grown in St. Thomas, Portland and St. Mary. Most coconuts are used for bottled water, while the dry nuts are used for oil, cream and desiccated coconut.