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Feb 12, 2020

Cane Farmers Better Equipped to Mitigate Outbreak of Froghopper in Northern Belize

The Government of Belize, the European Union and Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute officially opened the Integrated Pest and Disease laboratory. The one point seven million Belize dollars lab will develop the biological control called metarhizium.  It will be applied to farms where there are outbreaks of the froghopper pest.  It is a major pest that has resulted in millions of dollars in losses.  News Five travelled to Corozal today for the opening of the lab at the SIRDI compound in Buena Vista Village.  Here’s the full story.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The sugar cane industry inaugurated the first of its kind metarhizium laboratory. This lab will use naturally occurring organisms, like a type of fungi called the metarhizium. In the lab it will be developed as an alternative to conventional chemical pesticides. It will be used to prevent and or control a number of pest infestations, including the destructive froghopper; a major pest that targets sugarcane crops. The metarhizium is an effective and environmentally friendly, biological control method that is in line with international standards.

 

Ermin Gonzalez

Ermin Gonzalez, Environmental Officer, B.S.C.F.A.

“Our goal as an industry is to become competitive. Not ignoring the challenges that we are facing in terms of production, the unstable sugar global market prices, the prolonged periods of drought and the effects of climate change and as a result, the appearance of new pests and diseases every day; Therefore, the need for venturing towards more environmentally friendly alternatives for production, without compromising human health while safeguarding nature and its ecology. All of us, as associations, are aware that we are certified under the Fairtrade brand and to comply with the fair-trade standards, we need to stop using chemicals and to start using biological agents to control pests. We need to stop using chemicals and start using biological control agents for controlling pests. This is something that we have long awaited and now it is here, the facility to produce biological control agents such as the one well-known to our farmers, metarhizium.”

 

The froghopper alone has caused millions of dollars in losses to the sugar cane industry. It is a pest that that has been around for years and affects cane farmers by increasing cost of production due to the need for regular chemical controls which results in the decrease of sugar cane production.  With global demands for environmentally safe and organically produced crops, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

 

Jose Novelo

Jose Novelo, Ministry of Agriculture

“In 2006-2007, according to the records that I was looking at, the industry lost one hundred thousand tonnes of cane due to froghopper damage, at a cost of nine million dollars. In 2012, we also had a froghopper outbreak.   In 2013, we had another froghopper outbreak and eighteen thousand acres of the established sugarcane fields were affected by froghoppers. It caused an estimated reduction in production of thirty-six percent.  This weapon here for biological control is a good initiative. We cannot continue to rely on inorganic, petro-chemical products to do our disease and pest management. We also have to increase the culture practices that we are engaged with in the sugarcane industry to make it environmentally friendly and healthier for our farmers.”

 

Over the years, farmers have had a tough time to control the froghopper. They now welcome this lab which will make the biological agent available to them at an affordable price. Roy Navarro, a sugar cane farmer and board member of the newest sugar cane farmer association, says the problem has persisted for a long time and they are relieved to be getting help.

 

Roy Navarro

Roy Navarro, Board Member, Northern Sugarcane Growers Association

“This project is good because we are preparing ourselves if in case, and I think sooner or later, we will have the pest again. So, it is a good project.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“What kind of problems does the froghopper create for the farmers; what kind of damage does it do to the crops?”

 

Roy Navarro

“Well, the froghopper is a small insect and when this froghopper attacks the sugarcane, it basically destroys everything.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Has it been very difficult for the cane farmers to control this pest?”

 

Roy Navarro

“Yes. It is very difficult to control that pest. In terms of chemicals, it is not good to use so much chemicals and that is why I think this project, the biological control, is better than the chemical control.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“What kind of losses did you did you experience as a result of this pest?”

 

Roy Navarro

“In terms of, if I can talk percentage, more than fifty percent of my crop when this pest attack our cane fields.”

 

This laboratory is a part of a wider project, supported and funded by the European Union, with the Government and Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute. SIRDI says that vegetable and fruit growers, as well as cattle herders and households can use the metarhizium to eliminate a number of pests. The metarhizium is also proven to be effective against other pests like weevils; ticks; cockroaches and adult grass loopers. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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