Local sweet potato crops under threat

Sweet potatoes infected by weevils
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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Like most ground provisions, sweet potatoes aren’t known for their beautiful exterior; it’s what’s inside that counts. But the level of harm caused by the sweet potato weevil is severe enough that some farmers are threatening to abandon their crops altogether.

The weevil bores holes into the tubers, causing them to taste bad and to rot quickly. The pest is very difficult to control, even using insecticides. 

Weevils can cause the loss of up to half the sweet potatoes produced and sometimes can lead to the loss of the entire crop, especially during dry seasons.

Residents have been complaining that they aren’t getting value for money when they buy sweet potatoes, as half of the food has to be dumped.

“They look normal on the outside but as you begin to peel them, black holes…rotten spots, you just have to dump them,” one small restaurant owner told Observer.

She said residents love potatoes and would especially order them on a daily basis for lunch.

“But I had to stop buying them altogether because they are just not good at all. No matter where you go or who you buy from, these potatoes are just not good,” she said.

Her statements were supported by Senior Extension Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Owolabi Elabanjo, who claimed that local farmers are struggling to protect their sweet potato crops from the weevils that render their harvests unmarketable.

He said the insect is now rampant and the heat is not helping at all.

“They are multiplying, especially because it is very hot. They multiply under the soil. So now we have to educate our farmers early next year on how to fight the problem,” he said.

Elabanjo said the Ministry of Agriculture will import a pesticide to assist farmers.

“Coming next year, we will start the programme and we are hoping to bring in as much [pesticide] as possible. Once we distribute it to our farmers, some of the damage people are seeing at the local market will be reduced,” Elabanjo said.

The eradication project is being funded by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

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