Coconut reforestation efforts underway

Coconut palms devastated by lethal yellowing in Antigua and Barbuda. (Photo courtesy Gemma Handy)
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With efforts to germinate and nurse coconut palm seedlings underway, the country’s population of these trees could see a major boost soon with reforestation efforts.

Hotel properties, home owners and farmers have suffered the loss of these trees, which have become synonymous with island living and paradise, due to the dreaded effects of lethal yellowing.

Many have had to invest in oxytetracycline, a product used to keep the disease in check, in order to save their remaining trees from the disease that was first discovered here in 2012.

The government announced plans last year, to import coconut seeds to help with the nation’s stock of plants that many rely on to make shredded coconut products, coconut water, oil production, among other things.

Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Janil Gore-Francis explained that the department has already done a risk assessment and has approved the importation of these seeds.

“The forestry unit within the ministry has been working on a reforestation project and they would have gone through and imported a quantity of those seeds,” she said. “As far as I am aware, they are growing the seedlings from them to be part of that reforestation programme, as to where exactly those plants will be planted, I am not sure but I know they have them in nurseries currently.”

While many have been counting their losses amid a greater reliance on imports and the treatment of these palms, Dr Gore-Francis believes that the impact of the disease on the country’s remaining plants appears to have plateaued, with no obvious signs that things have gotten worse.

“I think we have reached a sort of an equilibrium based on the reports that we get,” she said. “We do get one or two requests to assess the status of plants with a view to have some of them go on to that treatment programme, but I am not aware that the situation has gotten any worse.

The chief plant protection officer explained that while the department still receives reports of plants “coming down with the disease,” such reports have decreased, a reality she believes also points to some “normalization” in how plants in the country are being impacted.

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