Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Deadly disease threatens to wipe out cocoa industry

Published:Thursday | December 14, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Thick fungal growth that forms a dense mat on the cocoa pods.
Deadly cocoa disease.

Trading, transportation, and processing of cocoa pods and other planting material across parish borders has been suspended with immediate effect, an emergency strategy aimed at curtailing the spread of the deadly frosty pod disease, which, if left unchecked, could wipe out the local cocoa industry.

The measure, which will be in effect for at least three years, was announced by Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, during a press conference at the his Hope Gardens office, yesterday.

Clarendon, which produces an estimated 70 per cent of Jamaica's crop - which ranks among the top 10 fine flavoured cocoa in the world - is the worst-affected parish, where the crop is almost entirely infected. St Mary, another high-producing parish, is also badly affected, with Portland and St Thomas the only places where the devastating disease has not yet been detected.

Frosty pod is caused by the Moniliophthora roreri, which produces billion of spores that are easily spread by wind, water, or humans. It can remain active on clothing and other material and equipment for up to nine months. Signs and symptoms only appear on the pods.

Despite measures instituted last year, the fungus now threatens to wipe out cocoa cultivation, Samuda disclosed.

"We have now come to realise that the disease has spread tremendously. Clarendon is practically wiped out. St Mary has but a couple of pockets left but has to be treated as if it were wiped out," he told the press conference.

It was after careful assessment of the findings of an islandwide survey that plant disease experts determined that more aggressive action was deemed absolutely necessary, paving the way for the enactment of the Cocoa Frosty Pod Order of 2017. The minister explained the import of the order.

"The public is not allowed to move or dispatch from or move into any area of Jamaica any cocoa pods, plants, seedlings, cuttings, products, planting material, or related articles. You can't move across borders and go into a cocoa field. It's against the law, for which there will be penalties.

"So after this severe cutting back and the is place cleaned up, we have to literally start over again. So the cocoa industries in the parishes of St Catherine, St Mary, and Clarendon will be on suspension for at least three years - three to five years - and those are the harsh realities."

The public should report any suspected symptoms of the cocoa frosty pod rot by calling any of the following agencies of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries:

- Plant quarantine/plant inspection - 977-7160, or via WhatsApp at 435-5828

-- Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) Toll free - 1-888-ASK-RADA (275-7243)

- Research and Development - 745-2957

- Cocoa Industry Board - 923-6413