Fri | Oct 22, 2021

Scant regard for plant health

Published:Thursday | March 5, 2020 | 12:18 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Banana Board General Manager Janet Conie.
Banana Board General Manager Janet Conie.

The laid-back and nonchalant attitude of some members of staff of the Plant Quarantine Division of the Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries is hurting efforts to get some urgent sanitary and phytosanitary projects, intended to protect the country from pests and diseases, off the ground.

On Wednesday, January 22, Audley Shaw, the minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, assured the launch ceremony for the International Year of Plant Health 2020 at Hope Gardens that effective February 1, 2020, Jamaica would install disinfectant mats at the Norman Manley International Airport as part of the country’s comprehensive efforts to reduce the risk of both plant and animal pests being introduced into the country.

“The strengthening of our border capabilities is of high priority,” he told the audience, which included executives of regional and international plant and animal health agencies.

Among the distinguished guests witnessing and applauding the minister’s commitment to action were Jamaica’s country representative for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, Dr Elizabeth Johnson; chairman of the Caribbean Plant Health Directors Forum, Brian Chrichlow; deputy programme manager, agricultural development of trade and economic integration, CARICOM Secretariat, D. Richard Blair; Caribbean Agriculture and Research Development Institute representative Dionne Clarke-Harris; and Food and Agricultural Organization representative to Jamaica, Crispen Moreira.

“Ladies and gentlemen, these threats are a constant and ever-present reminder that we cannot relent in our efforts to mitigate the threats to our food security.

“The observance of 2020 as International Year of Plant Health provides us with another opportunity to intensify our commitment to doing just that – ensuring the health and wellness of plants and, consequently, of all living things on our planet,” Shaw assured his audience.

However, checks by Farming Today have found that to date, no disinfectant mats have been installed at any of the island’s three international airports – Norman Manley, Sangster International or Ian Fleming.

Last Friday, director of communication and public relations Doreen O’Connor was asked about the status of the project. On Sunday, she sent a response via email at 10:07 p.m. advising that, “The pilot project was initiated, but has not yet been finalised.”

On Monday when Farming Today asked for a clarification as to whether or not any mats were installed, she admitted over the phone that nothing had been done. This is because the Plant Quarantine Division in the ministry is strapped for cash and there is no alternative funding yet identified to cover the cost of this operation.

URGENCY

This inactivity on such a matter of national importance flies in the face of the urgency of the situation, as highlighted by Shaw at the launch.

“Many of our traditional crops within the Caribbean that were major income earners have been affected by pests that have adversely impact the economic performance of these crops. Coffee, cocoa, banana, citrus and sugar are just a few. Perhaps we can recall some of the names that affected our banana sector, the coffee berry borer, citrus greening, to name a few.

“We have also seen an increase of pests over the last 10-15 years. Jamaica has recently been hit by the Frosty Pod Rot Disease of cocoa. The importance of plant health to agriculture, therefore, cannot be overemphasised.”

Meanwhile, general secretary of the Banana Board, Janet Conie, who attended a high-level regional meeting on developments relating to Tropical Race 4, the disease which affects banana and plantains, as well as heliconia flowers, in Panama City, Panama, from February 17-19, admitted that they are also struggling to find money to fight the fungal disease.

They learnt a lot, she admitted, but “we are still going to be strapped for funding”. This is because out of the US$500,000 pool of funds earmarked for the Latin American and Caribbean region, only US$100,000 will be spent in the Caribbean, with Jamaica’s share restricted to covering a regional simulation exercise on Tropical Race 4 infestation and control.

In addition, Jamaica is faced with finding an environmentally friendly alternative to the blue sleeves, which are a common feature of banana cultivation here, since its use will be banned for fruit exported to Europe come July.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com