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Oct 26, 1999

Mealy bug control program continues

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Although it was only detected in Belize City at the end of September, the Ministry of Agriculture believes the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug has quietly been munching on Belizean plants and fruit trees for as long as nine months. They believe it was brought into the country by someone who arrived by air and did not declare their plants. That person put their plant in the ground in Belize City and the rest is history. The experiences of other countries such as Grenada have led the Ministry to accept the fact that we may never be able to completely eradicate the mealy bug, but it can be controlled through biological agents and public awareness. Today those heading the control program held a press conference to thank Belizeans for their cooperation and give an update on the effort to rein in this ruthless little bug. News Five’s Karla Heusner reports.

So far the pest has ravaged plants in all areas of Belize City and its immediate suburbs of Belama, Buttonwood Bay and Bella Vista. It has also been found in Belmopan, Hopkins, Caye Chapel, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye and most recently at Jih Chen at mile twenty-five on the Western Highway. The Ministry says it has been able to eradicate the pest in Hopkins and San Pedro although they will continue to monitor these sites. The spread pattern has provided insight into how the bug is being transported, and how it can be controlled.

Orlando Sosa, Entomologist

“We have also found it in Belmopan. So this gives us the idea that the pest is moving with people, rather than naturally. Because if it was natural, we would find it more extensively past Belama, Buttonwood and Bella Vista. We would find it all along the highway. This is not what we are seeing. What we are seeing is that we are having pockets of infestation cropping up all over. Basically we find it in Belize City, next we found it in Belmopan, then we found it in Hopkins. So it’s jumping. People are the major factor here.”

People may have inadvertently spread the mealy bug, but they can also help control it. The Ministry is asking the public to continue cooperating with the officers at the quarantine checkpoints and not move infected plants to other locations. But the best thing people can do at this point is nothing at all.

Orlando Sosa

“If you are in an area where we have released the parasites or the beetle, then I would recommend that you don’t do anything. If you cut and burn plant material infected with the mealy bug and wasps were already there working, you will kill the wasp. So it is essential and critical that the people cooperate with us. We don’t want people to try to control the pest and also at the same time get rid of what we are trying to do to help the problem.”

Although there are reports that the ladybugs are being eaten by birds and lizards in the St. Martins area of Belize City and some of the wasps were killed by chemicals used to control mosquitoes, the Ministry says more insects were released in this area. They are also establishing a hatchery for wasps as a cost saving measure since they can cost a dollar or more each. If the program works it could save Belize millions of dollars in damage to its banana, citrus, sugar and other crops. Karla Heusner for News Five.

The quarantine checkpoints will continue for another three weeks or so. They are being manned by Ministry of Agriculture personnel and students from the Belize College of Agriculture. A number of regional agricultural agencies have assisted the Belize Government with funding for the control program and more assistance is on the way. The Republic of China on Taiwan is providing technical support. The citrus growers, banana growers as well as cane farmers have all pledged to help with the countrywide surveys.

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