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Plant health awareness to take centre stage in 2020

Published:Friday | January 24, 2020 | 12:16 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

Activities during the International Year of Plant Health, being observed in 2020, will be aimed at raising awareness of the multipurpose role of healthy plants in ending hunger, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and boosting economic development.

Describing this global initiative as a unique opportunity to bring intense focus on the challenges faced in protecting plant health, Caribbean Agriculture and Research Development Institute (CARDI) representative Dionne Clarke-Harris said it also presents opportunities for individuals from all walks of life to play their part.

During last Wednesday’s launch at the Pavilion, Hope Gardens, Clarke-Harris said plants are the primary producers in the food web and generate most of the vital oxygen breathed, but the threats to plant populations are increasing.

“Pests and diseases present major challenges and are responsible for 40 per cent of losses in food crops globally. Climate change effects and our own actions are compounding the problem. Increased international travel, which for us here in the Caribbean means increased tourist arrivals (a good thing), also means increased pest and disease arrivals, and new arrivals can create major problems for the agriculture sector and our invaluable biodiversity,” the scientist pointed out.

Clarke-Harris then went on to cite common experiences in the region which would underscore the types of devastation that can result from introduced species, such as:

• Lethal yellowing – more than 10 million coconut trees killed in Jamaica in the 1970s, and the disease continues to constrain coconut production.

• Earlier races of Fusarium wilt (Panama disease) wiped out the Gros Michel variety and paralysed the banana industry.

• Pink hibiscus mealybug – blanketed multiple crops in a number of countries in the Eastern Caribbean and killed well-established forest trees.


To recover from, and cope with, these incursions is beyond the scope of individual countries, requiring large investments in human and infrastructural capacity in multiple countries and agencies working together for the common good, a point underscored by Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) country representative, Dr Elizabeth Johnson.

“Governments must empower plant protection organisations and other relevant institutions and provide them with adequate human and financial resources to protect plant health. Governments must invest more in plant health-related research and outreach, as well as innovative practices and technologies,” she declared. In addition, strategic partnerships and collaborative actions by all stakeholders are essential.

Both CARDI and IICA have provided strong institutional support, having partnered with CARICOM members on training and research in order to build out their individual capacities to cope with plant health challenges.

Integrated pest management, genetic resources, agro-ecological systems, technology transfer, capacity-building and policy guidance are the areas in which CARDI has been provided assistance at the regional level, while, in Jamaica, it quite recently equipped, refurbished and expanded the seed laboratory at Bodles Research Station in St Catherine. The facility will produce true and vegetative climate-resilient seed material and will facilitate the movement of clean planting material to support climate-smart production systems and help mitigate the effects of natural disasters.