The citrus industry is one of the most significant revenue earners in the Belizeans economy but for the last two months growers have been quietly facing a one of the most dangerous diseases to ever threaten local citrus groves. It is called citrus greening.
Mike Ire; Plant Pathologist and Bacterial Expert

“Citrus greening is a bacterial disease that is spread by and insect bacteria. The insect bacteria is present in Belize and it lives in the vascular system of the plant. It I kind of like hardening of the arteries it kind of disrupts the flow of nutrients within the plant and ultimately causes the decline of the tree.”

According to Plant Pathologist and Bacterial Expert Mike Ire symptoms of citrus greening include distorted fruit, bitter juice and yellow leaves. Scientists had yet to discover a cure for citrus greening and the disease has already been detected in every district in Belize. A task force which includes representatives from the Citrus Growers Association, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture has already been formed to address the issue and some two hundred thousand dollars have been invested in testing equipment to determine how wide spread the disease is.

Mike Ire; Plant Pathologist and Bacterial Expert

“Most countries that are managing the disease have managed it by doing three things; one is having disease free trees coming into the nurseries, the other is by removing infected trees and managing inactive level and the other one and the other is by controlling the solid.”

As a first step a moratorium has been placed on the sale of nursery plants across the country. Efrain Rejon is Farm Manager for the nurseries of the Agricultural Development and Service Limited.

Janelle Chanona Reporting…

I have been made to understand that one of the ideas is to whip out all nurseries totally.

Efrain Rejon; Farm Manager, Agricultural Development and Service Limited

“We have to do a risk assessment and an evaluation of what impact we will have an infected nursery and we plant these plants in an area that is clean. At the end of the day we need to know how wide spread the disease is and I think that is the bottom line. That will be the determining factor because that would set the parameters of what decisions we would make in the citrus industry.”

Ninety percent of the local citrus industry is made up of small farmers. According to citrus grower Brian Bowman in addition to the nursery men, small farmers will be among the hardest hit if the disease takes hold in Belize.

Brian Bowman; Citrus Grower

“The larger grower who probably has more funds to do all the chemical spraying and the chemical for the fertilizing and folio spraying, the maintenance of the trees will end up surviving a bit longer. Small farmers especially in a year like this when the price is very low, one can even barely afford to fertilize will have weaker trees and like human beings the weaker you are the more susceptible to the disease the quicker the decline and the faster they will be out the picture. I would say that it is a very serious concern for all growers but especially small growers who perhaps don’t have the equipments, the funds, the wear it all to fight off or delay, I guess the inevitable as far as they are concern.”

Within that context chairman of the Citrus Growers Association Frank Redman is calling for unity.

Frank Redman; Chairman, Citrus Growers Association

“It has been in many countries. It has been in Florida for over six years and they are surviving it. I am certain that we can survive but first we need to know what we got. We need to know what the problem is and then we can come up with a plan of action. I can only say that with the association working together with the growers is the best way of coming through this; working together.”

On Tuesday afternoon visiting US expert Mike Ire addressed growers at a special seminar at the CGA Headquarters on the Stann Creek Valley Road. Ire says the situation is serious but growers should remain optimistic.

Mike Eire; Plant Pathologist and Bacterial Expert

“Citrus Canker is like a cold. It is unpleasant but you can live with it. Citrus Greening is more like a cancer you have to deal with it in a more serious manner. That being said it gives you the magnitude of it but that being said there is hope that you can develop a system that will work.”