SPECIAL ALERT NO. 263 - THE CARIBBEAN - 20 DECEMBER 1995
OVERVIEWRecent FAO staff visits to the sub-region confirm extensive damage to crops in Grenada caused by the Maconellicoccus hirsutus, also known as the Hibiscus Mealy Bug or Pink Mealy Bug (PMB). The PMB is a new pest in the Caribbean. It
is a highly polyphogous insect and is considered to be the most devastating mealy bug known. It injects toxic saliva into the plant tissues during feeding, resulting in malformed leaves and shoots, stunting and death of young shoots. The PMB is re
ported to attack more than 125 plant species, including fruits, food crops, vegetables, beverage crops, forest species and ornamental species. It spins a waxy coating, which together with its ability to crawl into cracks and crevices, protects the
pest from pesticides. The efficiency of chemical control is questionable and heavy pesticide use could, in fact, be counter-productive. Control is effected through a wide range of natural enemies, including parasitoids and predators. The spread of
the infestation is also reported in other island countries, notably Trinidad and Tobago and St. Kitts.
In Grenada, where a state of national emergency was declared by the Government in late 1994, the PMB has now reached epidemic proportions, infesting over 100 crops and forest species. The situation in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as St. Kitts and N
evis and the Windward Islands of Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is not as serious yet, but the threat posed and the possibly ensuing damages, particularly to the banana industry, an important foreign exchange earner, could
be of extreme proportions. The infestation is therefore of major economic significance and jeopardizes the food security of the sub-region. A possible spread to Venezuela, 10 km distant from the nearest point of Trinidad, could have far reaching an
d devastating implications for the Latin America region as a whole.
GRENADAThe infestation in Grenada reportedly started in 1993, but it was first officially recorded in September 1994; by that time, it had spread to several areas in the country. The southern and western areas of the island are most se
verely affected. The pest has caused widespread crop devastation with total losses to the economy of more than U.S.$ 60 million. In the infested areas, the PMB has led to a 30 percent reduction in cocoa yields, one of the main sources of foreign ex
change earnings. Green spots on bananas reportedly caused by the bug could imperil the fruit quality and thus reduce export prices and revenues. A decline in the production of vegetables and other food commodities, directly due to infestation, has
caused food shortages in local markets and higher consumer prices of all food stuffs. In the case of forests, most severe damage is observed on Blue Mahoe, Teak and Samaan trees. The destruction of the watershed areas could have serious implication
s for the water supply, particularly to southern areas. Many ornamental plants, the Hibiscus species in particular, are seriously affected.
The economic implications of the infestation for Grenada are reflected in loss of income for some 15 000 affected farmers. Currently, only banana farmers are covered by crop insurance under the Windward Banana Export Association, which covers four
island countries, namely Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica. No crop insurance programme is in place for other farmers. The PMB infestation is a serious blow to many farmers: their expenditure on chemical applications and labour costs has
increased substantially, while yields are sharply down. The pruning and burning of severely affected plants poses forest fire hazards, particularly during the dry season.
The reduced food production has led to increases in prices of all foodstuffs. The reduced production of export crops and the ban imposed by other Caribbean countries on fruit and vegetable imports from Grenada mean an important loss of foreign exch
ange, thus constraining the country's capacity for commercial imports of food.
Although no external food aid is required, Government assistance programmes will be needed to alleviate hardship on most vulnerable groups. The assistance programmes should include the provision of concessional credit facilities, establishment of c
rop insurance schemes, provision of assistance packages of fertilizers and small tools. Some international assistance may be required in the provision of these agricultural inputs.
FAO is currently assisting the Government of Grenada by focusing on biological control of the PMB. However, further assistance is needed with the monitoring and evaluation of the biological control agent, organization of training programmes, settin
g up public awareness activities, strengthening extension services and conducting studies on identification of chemicals compatible with the biological control.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO AND ST. KITTS AND NEVISThe PMB was identified in August 1995 in Trinidad and Tobago and in October 1995 in St. Kitts and Nevis. Although the situation is not so serious as in Grenada, the pest threatens all foodcrop
cultivations in general, and export crops, such as sugar and cocoa, major foreign exchange earners partly used to cover food import requirements. In Trinidad and Tobago, the large investments in Teak plantations in the country are also imperiled b
y threat of infestation as well as the collection of cocoa germplasm which has been maintained with national, Caribbean and international contributions for more than 50 years.
DOMINICA, ST. LUCIA AND ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINESAlthough no PMB infestation has yet been reported, there is a serious threat that the pest could spread to these countries. An infestation of the banana crop would result in a reduc
tion of fruit quality with adverse impact on the economic growth of the Windward Islands, as these countries continue to be largely dependent on banana production and their export. A contraction in the banana industry, the main source of export ear
nings, would lead to a deterioration in the trade balances of these countries and reduce their ability to purchase food on international markets. Some of the countries' root crops are also destined for exports and an eventual damage to these crops
by the PMB could have adverse economic implications.
Given the serious threat posed by the Pink Mealy Bug to the food security of the whole Caribbean sub-region and its possible spread to the Latin American region, the situation needs to be monitored closely.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION:The Caribbean sub-region is comprised of 16 island countries (considering the Netherlands Antilles as one country), with a total population of about 32 million. The per caput G.N.P. in the sub-region in 1993, particu
larly the small island countries affected or threatened by the pest, generally ranged from U.S.$ 1,400 to U.S.$ 6,400. However, these relatively high per caput incomes compared with low-income food-deficit countries are derived from the fragile sou
rces, i.e., tourism and exports of one or two crops. The apparently comfortable per caput income levels also mask high unemployment/under-employment rates in most countries, estimated generally of the order of 25 percent of the work-force. As such
a substantial proportion of the Caribbean population can be classified as vulnerable.