By Latrishka Thomas
The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) Regional Workshop began yesterday with a host of regional experts who gathered to share experiences and ideas on plant protection.
At this convention, Craig Thomas, who is the national specialist for the Inter-American Institute of the Cooperation of Agriculture (IICA) delegation in Antigua and Barbuda, announced that assessments will be done in short order to evaluate the prevalence of the Giant African Snail and deduce solutions.
He said: “IICA continues to offer technical support. Most recently we were awarded some funds to assist the Plant Protection Unit to manage and prevent the Giant African Snail. Especially knowing fully well that it is not present in Barbuda, we will be undertaking a number of activities to assist the farming community and also the residential community.
“Under this program we are planning to have at least six town hall meetings, one in Barbuda and five in the other farming districts in Antigua. We will also be doing some data collection to basically find out where we have most of these Giant African Snails in Antigua and Barbuda.”
The Giant African Snail, however, is only one of many plant pests that plague the twin island state, and Minister of Agriculture Dean Jonas said the conference may be just what this country needs at this time.
“My hope is that coming out of this meeting that we can have some positive responses to some of these pests that are affecting us. There is a lot of international best practices that we can deploy. How have other countries coped in particular with the Giant African Snail, and we’re hoping that some of these best practices can be brought to bear on Antigua and Barbuda to help us to solve this problem.”
He also listed some of the other major challenges that the Antigua and Barbuda Plant Protection Unit has been attempting to tackle.
“We are affected by quite a few pests that have devasted certain sectors of our industry. As you know we are a major tourism economy here and one of the problems that we have is with the lethal yellowing in particular that has wiped out a lot of our palm trees in Antigua and Barbuda; not just coconuts, but a lot of the other decorative palms that the hotels require. Also, we had a problem with citrus greening that has pretty much wiped out all our citrus in Antigua and Barbuda and has affected our access to oranges and other citrus. This has had an effect on our tourism industry that has been quite negative.”
In addition, Plant Production Protection Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Barbados, Vyjayanthi Lopez, said that a major concern they hope to address is plant protection during a drought.
“Right now, all the countries are suffering from drought. We have not had enough rain in all the countries of the Caribbean this year. Our farmers are suffering, so what FAO is doing here is focusing on water harvesting, conservation of water because we waste a lot of water… so we need to harvest whatever rain comes in our countries, that’s one of the things. We need to have crops that are tolerant or resistant to drought so they can stop growing a little bit when you have drought and when rain comes, they start growing again…so we need to find varieties like that that will go long under these conditions,” she stated.
Other key persons present at the forum being held at the at the Verandah Resort were Juliet Goldsmith, Plant Health specialist for the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency, (CAHFSA) and Brent Larson from the International Plant Protection Secretariat.
The IPPC Regional Workshop will continue until September 12th.