(GIS) – Agriculture officials have cautioned the business sector and the public in general to be circumspect when bringing plant material into the country, in an effort to stave off lethal yellowing disease in Saint Lucia.
Lethal yellowing causes the premature death of coconut and other palm trees following the discoloration of plant foliage, and the destruction of the fruit.
St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Jamaica have all fallen victim to the disease which has decimated the islands’ coconut palm populations and destroyed livelihoods dependent on the coconut industry.
Early last year, OECS Director General, Dr. Didacus Jules indicated that the destruction of the coconut industry by lethal yellowing in Saint Kitts and Antigua, were a direct result of the importation of palms from Florida for landscaping in the tourism industry.
Barry Innocent, Deputy Director of Agriculture Services in the Department of Agriculture, Saint Lucia, said the disease works rapidly as there are not many chemicals that can control the pathogen that causes lethal yellowing, resulting in the destruction of an infected plant in a matter of months.
“I want to make sure the public understands the behavior and nature of the pathogen so persons do not bring it into the country unknowingly,” Mr. Innocent said. “This pathogen is a microscopic organism, so you can’t see it with the naked eye. Its host or its carrier is a leaf hopper—a very tiny grasshopper about the size of the head of a matchstick. The host, the leaf hopper, likes lawn areas, so people who are into golfing, they have to be careful of the materials they bring into the country, especially grass, to support the golfing sector or golfing activities. This leaf hopper is known to inhabit grassy areas. So we have to be very careful at this point, and if we do bring in grass, it is very important that the Ministry of Agriculture is contacted, and that the Research and Development Division tests the phytosanitary conditions to make sure that we are not bringing these into our country.”
While Saint Lucia has had no cases of the disease to date, Mr. Innocent cautions prudence.
“No one should take the chance and hide a sample of lawn covering in a bag or suitcase to bring it into the country. That is very dangerous. If we end up with lethal yellowing disease in our country, many, many rural livelihoods will be affected. Many people will not be able to earn an income because their income relies on the sales of coconut water. So in your various travels, be very careful what you bring back. It is better to contact the Ministry of Agriculture Plant Quarantine Unit before bringing any form of plant tissue into the country.”
In 2015, Saint Lucia purchased 5000 resistant coconut palm varieties from Mexico. The Department of Agriculture plans to test the resistance of these varieties by sending some plants to Antigua in 2018.