East Africa’s citrus industry in jeopardy

A destructive plant-feeding insect is spreading across Africa and its traces have been found in two East African Countries, Kenya and Tanzania.

The insect is scientifically known as Diaphorina citri. It transmits a bacterium which is associated with a plant-related disease known as Citrus Greening Disease. The disease has been affecting several citrus industries in America and Asia a decade age.

Citrus is highly produced by most African countries. Following Kenya and Madagascar, Tanzania is the third-ranking citrus producer with a total of approximately 45,084mT per year according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

On the report of Tanzanian researchers, the insects do exist in the country, however, no destruction caused by the insects has been documented so far. As a precaution, Mohamed Mpina, a senior research scientist from the Tropical Pesticide has plans underway to raise awareness, especially among rural farmers. Scientists researching on Diasphorina citri say that if left unchecked, it might spread rapidly and cause even greater harm on the citrus.

Dr Fathiya Khamis, a molecular biologist and a researcher scientist at International Centre of Insect and Pest Ecology (ICIPE), said that the citrus greening disease is incurable and as such preventive measures are of the essence. Currently, she says, controlling the pest heavily depends on the use of contact and systemic insecticides such as phosmet, thiocylam and imidacloprid which are not human and environmentally friendly.

” These pesticides are toxic and have deleterious effects of human health. These pesticides also pose a threat to non-target insects especially the ecosystem service providers such as pollinators,” says Khamis. Therefore, alternative means of keeping the insects at bay are highly recommended. Researchers are looking to develop some antibiotic resistance.

The Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Omari Mgumba says the government has allocated US$646,552 for research on crops through the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), on which TARI is expected to come up with improved seeds for fruits and crops that can resist insects.

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Farmers Review Africa
Farmers Review Africa