Over 100 coconut farmers in the Pomeroon have been offered training and tools to combat the red palm mite.
While the scale of the present red palm mite infestation has not yet been established, Director of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) Dr Oudho Homenauth told Stabroek News that a team of officers from NAREI met 97 farmers at Friendship Estate and 37 at Grant Macedonia to discuss ways of preventing and managing the parasitic infestation.
From June 9 – 11, officers educated farmers on the need to practise proper sanitation and regular clearing of coconut estates to remove host plants such as the wild Heliconia and thus slow the spread of the parasites.
The farmers were also provided with the insecticide abamectin which can be used as a spray or drilled into the plant to kill the pest. The institute has also provided groups of farmers with the necessary drills.
Homenauth noted that Guyana is collaborating with regional and international partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to institute best practices in its efforts to combat the parasite.
The red palm mite, Raoiella indica, a pest of several palm species, uses it stylet-like mouthparts (chelicerae) to pierce the plant tissue and extract cell contents. This action damages the guard cells of the leaves leading to uncontrollable water loss from the plant. The leaves yellow, then brown before eventually dying and taking the plant with them.
The pest was first identified in the Caribbean in 2003, since then it has spread presumably by wind currents to more than 12 Caribbean countries now inclusive of Guyana.
At a 2008 invasive species symposium, red palm mite expert Dr Amy Roda revealed that coconut growers in the then affected countries were reporting a 70 per cent reduction in yield.
Its presence in Guyana in the Pomeroon area was confirmed two weeks ago by NAREI and a team dispatched to establish the extent of its effects on the crop.
This team retuned last Friday without any conclusive information since according to Homenauth the pest has only been in that area of the country for 2-3 months. “This is not long enough to have affected the harvest since these parasites usually go for the more mature leaves first,” he said.