Citrus pest fears growing in Antigua

ST. JOHN’S — Government might soon be forced to seek outside assistance to combat yet another pest, which appears to be affecting the country’s agricultural sector.

Over the past few months, home owners and farmers have been reporting symptoms of Citrus Greening – one of the more serious diseases of citrus plants, but according to head of the Plant Protection Unit, Dr. Janil-Gore-Francis, “this is yet to be confirmed via test.”

“We have not really tested our plants as yet, but we suspect this based on the symptoms that we are seeing and the reports we have received from persons with citrus plants,” Francis said.

“We would have to do a laboratory test to identify the presence of the pathogen that causes the disease,” Francis added.

She further explained that the symptoms are island-wide and not concentrated in any particular area.

The sister island of Barbuda has not yet reported any symptoms.

The plant protection officer said with citrus greening, the leaves of the affected tree turn yellow, and the fruits dry out.

Citrus Greening is a bacterial disease that significantly reduces production, and can kill trees. It is spread primarily by insects from infected trees to healthy trees as they feed on the plant.

The disease is primarily spread by two species of psyllid insects. The bacteria itself is not harmful to humans but the disease has harmed trees in Asia, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Brazil and countries in the Caribbean.

In recent years, officials in the Ministry of Agriculture have been battling a number of pests and diseases, including lethal yellowing, bud rot, the giant African land snail, and the Cuban tree frog.

Francis believes some of these are due to natural spread while others are the result of movement of plant-associated materials to the island. (Antigua Observer)

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