JIS News

The European Union (EU) Banana Support Programme is currently holding a series of awareness seminars on the Moko disease, as it joins the Ministry of Agriculture’s efforts to contain the disease that affects mainly bananas and plantains.
These seminars, which began on March 15, will continue until April 5 and will be held in the parishes of Portland, St. Mary, St. Catherine, St. Thomas and St. James.
Director of Technical Services with the Programme, Clifton Wilson, told JIS News that the seminars would alleviate the sense of panic that currently existed, by apprising farmers of how to recognize the disease and the steps needed to contain it.
“We are trying to alleviate the panic and uncertainty that exist within the banana sector. There are a number of farmers out there who are very uncertain what direction they should go, so we hope to restore some amount of calm within the banana industry,” he said.
These seminars would also heighten awareness of community members, leading to early detection which would aid in the successful control and containment of the disease, he added.
Seminar participants will be taught the steps to be taken in case the disease is detected on their farm or in the community.
Farmers are advised to inspect their fields carefully on a weekly basis for symptoms of the condition. If telltale yellowing of leaves is noted, they are advised to mark the location and report it to the nearest Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) or Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) office.Persons are cautioned not to remove any sucker, corn, fruit or leaf from a field that is suspected of having the disease.
Agriculturalists are warned against moving the host plant or plant parts from St. James where the disease was first discovered.
The seminars will also make people aware of the other host crops that can have the disease, including ginger, tomato, cocoa and some weeds that pose a threat to the industry.
The Technical Director said the seminars were currently taking the format of mass meetings due to the urgency of the situation.
Subsequently, the EU will return to the individual communities and provide training to farmers in small groups. The project will also target teachers of agriculture for training. The EU is assisted with these seminars by RADA and the JAS.
Mr. Wilson urged farmers to co-operate with the eradication teams, pointing out that the greatest challenge was getting the farmers’ co-operation and support in allowing the teams to move in and cordon off the area and inject the plants with herbicides. “Once we gain access to the farms and the plants are injected with the relevant herbicide, then we should be able to contain Moko, as the disease can be eradicated,” he stressed.
Although the disease has only been found in St. James, the information provided through these awareness seminars would help to restrict it to the western end of the island, explained Mr. Wilson.
He added that there has been a high level of attendance at the meetings, with the farmers asking many questions about the disease.
“Although Moko is a very dangerous disease, it doesn’t mean the end of the banana industry, as long as everyone takes the right steps to secure the industry,” he pointed out. The disease is caused by the Ralstoina solanacaerum bacterium. It affects the entire plant, whose leaves become yellow and wilted before they finally die along with the rest of the plant.
Mr. Wilson said that although it was a bacterial disease, Moko had no negative impact on human beings, so the banana fruit could be safely eaten.
Following the diagnosis of the disease in January 2004, the Ministry of Agriculture has implemented an action plan that included the eradication of 20 acres of banana in St. James; the establishment of a technical monitoring team to track the situation; and a Moko disease Order under the Plant Quarantine Act, to designate some districts in St. James as affected areas.
Members of the public may call any RADA or JAS office, the Banana Board at 922-2083 or the Banana Support Programme at 993-4245 or 993-4247 to report any sighting of the disease and for further information.The EU Banana Support Programme is part of a 10-year special framework of assistance for traditional suppliers of banana to the EU market. Since 1996, the programme has committed over $2 billion to the local banana industry.

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