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Sep 28, 1999

Caribbean pest may be in Belize, Ministry to destroy plants

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Although they are still not certain it is the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug, the Ministry of Agriculture is acting as if it is and they want the public to be on the alert. Several areas of Belize City have already been affected. How serious is the problem, and what can you do if you suspect your garden has the bug? Janelle Chanona met up with department personnel to find out.

Janelle Chanona

“This is what all the fuss is about… the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug, but don’t let its passive presence fool you, this bug is aggressively destroying agricultural and ornamental plants throughout Belize City.”

Today the Belize City office of the Ministry of Agriculture received over fifty reports of suspected mealy bug infestation in Belama, Buttonwood Bay and West Landivar. The bug has taken its toll already and just about every plant inspected showed signs of the pest. Resident of Bella Vista and former deputy executive director of CARDI, Hugh Saul says he’s seen the mealy bug wreck havoc in the Caribbean.

Hugh Saul, Resident, Bella Vista

“There were many Caribbean countries that were totally destroyed: Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis. You had very high levels of infestations in those countries and not only the horticultural crops that were destroyed, the fruit crops were destroyed and created a lot of hardships in those countries.”

Because Belize is an agricultural country, the Ministry of Agriculture is doing everything it can to try and avoid devastation in that sector of Belize’s economy.

Orlando Sosa, Entomologist, Ministry of Agriculture

“We are faced with a very serious problem. The pest has a host range of about two hundred and fifty plant species and therefore it can affect anything from ornamental to fruit trees to vegetables and forest species. In the Caribbean islands, they have estimated about one hundred million dollars lost per year as a result of the pest.

They depend highly on the beautification of their landscapes, their resorts and that type of thing and all those areas were very seriously affected.”

Brendan O’Donoghue, Landscaper

“I think Belize has to be particularly careful because it’s not any island; it can’t fully protect itself against quarantines because it’s adjacent to other land masses and therefore the flow of traffic, people and cargoes of various types does make a country vulnerable. And quarantined areas have to be quite strict about how they let things travel back and forth.”

The Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug is transferred from one area to another by plants but it is also spread by natural means like the recent high winds. The Ministry is removing the heavily infected plants through a coordinated effort with the City Council. Those plants will then have to be burned.

Orlando Sosa

“What we don’t want is for people to cut the plants and put them out by the roadside because the movement of the pest depends highly on wind and animal movements like dogs who may rub against it and move to a different location and even people.”

Spraying and cutting back infected plants won’t take away the problem. Instead specific types of beetles and wasps will have to be brought in to bring down the population. To keep the problem from spreading to the districts, roadblocks have been set on the highways and interim points like Roaring Creek and La Democracia.

Orlando Sosa

“We are aware that the quarantine will not be one hundred percent effective in minimizing or reducing the spread of this pest. What we are hope to do is that the checkpoint will sensitize people to become aware that there is a problem in Belize City, whether this is the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug or not and it is severe enough to warrant some kind of control measure and we’re hoping that the public can cooperate.”

Janelle Chanona for News Five.

On Friday samples of suspected mealy bugs were collected. They have been abroad for positive identification, but the results are not yet in. If it is the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug it is not clear yet how it got into Belize. The Ministry says since it has never been here before it is logical to assume it arrived via contraband material. Anyone who suspects the bug is attacking your plants, call the Ministry of Agriculture immediately. Do not attempt to remove the plant yourself.

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