Wed | Nov 14, 2018

Frosty pod rot 'not a death sentence'

Published:Thursday | January 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Farmers must be made aware of the critical role they have to play if Jamaica is to successfully combat the frosty pod rot disease, which now threatens the local cocoa industry. That's the word from Dr Elizabeth Johnson, country representative for the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), which has been providing technical and other support services to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.

Jamaica is, to date, the only country in the Caribbean to declare that it has been affected by the disease, but Johnson says the case of Peru, where the disease took root in about 1995, serves as a very practical example of the value of public awareness and stakeholder empowerment.

"Peru had 90 per cent of their 50,000 hectares with more than 80 per cent infection by frosty pod rot. Today, they have over 150,000 hectares, and the disease is less than 10 per cent, and the farmers have been the critical point in controlling this disease. So it is not a death sentence, by no means, but the thing is that it takes awareness. It takes the farmers knowing what to do and how to manage the disease.

"The one thing that we really need to happen quickly is to have the farmers aware of how to recognise this disease and how to treat the pods.

"It is believed that the delay in properly identifying frosty pod rot, compounded by a combination of climatic conditions that first suppressed the symptoms of the latter and then facilitated the easy spread of the fungus, are the main reasons it is so far advanced.

 

'A PERFECT STORM'

 

An agronomist with specialised training in crop science and biotechnology and who has done extensive research in molecular genetics, Johnson offered some insight into what is likely to have transpired.

"I think the first thing we did was the misidentification of the disease from the first instance and, unfortunately, Jamaica went through three years of drought, which would have suppressed the symptoms of the disease, and it was able to spread undetected. I think if we had normal conditions, we would have picked it up, and they could have identified it and put in place the management strategy much earlier. Then 2016 was a very wet year, and we're entering another wet period, where our dry season will be a 'wet' dry season, so we are now seeing the manifestation of the disease. So it just happened like a perfect storm in terms of the combination of things that came together. That makes it appear that more should be done, or that we are not responding fast enough, or that things are not happening fast enough."

'Managing this disease is no easy task'

Any argument that the response to the frosty pod rot disease was not fast enough would be far from the truth as Dr Elizabeth Johnson, country representative for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, has commended Karl Samuda and the staff of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries for their timely response.

"He (Samuda) has responded accurately and expeditiously once he was informed. We confirmed the presence of the disease, he took action, and they put in the quarantine order to be able to do the survey. He put money behind the programme, and now it's to try and train the teams ... to get them organised in working because it's a number of different units in the ministry that need to coordinate their efforts and work to manage this disease, and it's no easy task. So all in all, I think it's a learning experience, and I think we are better positioned, at this point in time, to respond."

To this end, IICA remains committed to continue to provide support by way of capacity building and training, Johnson said.