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Jamaica moves to prevent entry of plant pests

Published:Friday | January 24, 2020 | 12:13 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Pepper plants on a farm in St Mary.
Pepper plants on a farm in St Mary.

All used vehicles imported into Jamaica must now undergo a comprehensive sanitation process before reaching our shores. This is just the latest security measure aimed at reducing the risk of pests and pathogen hitching a ride into the country, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw disclosed at yesterday’s launch of the International Year of Plant Health, at the Pavilion, Hope Gardens, St Andrew.

In addition, starting Saturday, February 1, disinfectant mats to be used by arriving passengers and crews will be installed at the Norman Manley International Airport. The Government of Jamaica is also collaborating with the Mexican Government on an agriculture canine programme in which specially trained sniffer dogs will operate in much the same way as those who sniff out drugs.

“The strengthening of our border-protection capabilities is of high priority. We must reduce the soil being imported, which is a major carrier of pests,” declared Shaw. However, he did not give a timeline for the roll-out of similar security measures at other air or seaports.

Jamaica, which is grappling with an outbreak of Frosty Pod Rot of cocoa and has been long engaged in research to control lethal yellowing in coconuts, addressing moka disease which affects bananas, berry borer in coffee and citrus greening, is the first country in the region to observe the International Year of Plant Health 2020 under the theme ‘Protecting Plants, Protecting Life’.

Jamaica’s chief plant quarantine inspector, Sanniel Wilson-Graham, used the occasion to put into perspective the extent of the risks to which the country is exposed.

She disclosed that in 2018, Jamaica imported more than 227 kilogrammes of plants and plant material, while receiving over 4.3 million tourists, in addition to commercial passengers. Last year we also sent away more than 10,000 farm workers and recorded a spike in e-commerce purchases originating from Jamaica. These statistics, combined with the realities of climate change and our porous borders, place the country at significant risk of pests introduction.

“Another gripping statistic for us in agriculture is that over the past 15 years, the country has seen outbreaks of a minimum of nine new pests of economic importance,” Wilson-Graham added. This development is evidence of the scale and magnitude to which the national and global landscapes for the introduction of plant pests has changed.

“The economic and social impacts are far-reaching, so we can no longer continue to simply react; we must be proactive. One of the objectives of the International Year of Plant Health is to raise awareness of the importance of plant health to our food security and the sustainability of our lives,” the plant scientist warned, before making an impassioned appeal.

“As we seek to protect Jamaica’s agriculture sector by safeguarding our borders and preventing the introduction of plant pests, we all have a role to play. So our average citizens in Jamaica and certainly our welcomed tourists, let us hold hands together, protect Jamaica’s plant life, our food, our life!”