fg1Two years ago a devastating disease known as HLB or Citrus Green was found in Belize. When the disease, known to affect citrus trees was detected in the country, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority initiated a program of control along with the Citrus Growers Association and OIRSA to stop the spread.

Since Citrus Green has no cure the only way to stop the contamination of other trees is to remove the infected tree in order to kill the vector that transmits the disease. Here in the north over the past two years several citrus trees infected with the disease have been removed.

Francisco Gutierrez- BAHA Technical Director

“The disease is transmitted by an extremely small little insect couple millimetres maybe, that feeds on all citrus species including lemon aria this planting material that they use for hedges. The disease probably came over from Mexico or somewhere transmitted by the insect kind of like malaria or dengue and so once the insect transmits the disease to the tree it progressively start dying, stops producing fruits, drops the fruit, small deform fruit etcetera. Our work groups have been working in Orange Walk since the inception of the problem and we have removed trees all over the two districts. About a year and a half ago we had remove trees in Corozal, most of the villages along the Mexican border cause that’s where the problem was more concentrated and so we gradually moved into the town and I guess now people are seeing more activity but our crews have been in the two districts for the past year and a half.”

According to BAHAs Technical Director for Plant Health Services Francisco Gutierrez, in the South of the country production areas are already being affected by Citrus Green. If the spread is not controlled, in the longer term all citrus trees will be affected.

fgFrancisco Gutierrez- BAHA Technical Director

“Generally it starts with the yellowing of the leave of the shuts and that is the initial manifestation and at a more advance stage it starts getting deform fruits, small fruits, fruits drops from trees but it looks like a foliar or a no trade deficiency as if it lacking some micro elements, however we don’t see the deficient on that we send the samples to a laboratory that verifies that it is indeed infected and most of what you see being removed now were samples of a few months ago, our officer when to the communities whatever was suspected samples and took it back to the laboratory so now they go back and remove the infected trees. For a little compensation, we offer to replace it for another type of fruit tree, for every tree that we cut. At the moment we are not recommending citrus, lime until we could have handle the diseases, but what we basically do is to replace it with a mango tree , coconut whatever fruit of choice they would prefer other than citrus at the moment.”

In order to control the vector, plant movement into the country has been restricted at both the Western and Northern borders. But despite the measures taken Gutierrez says citrus trees are still being brought into the country illegally.

Francisco Gutierrez- BAHA Technical Director

“We do understand that sometimes people contraband plant material from Mexico, which also has the problem at the moment. Quintana-Roo is infected as well and so if people smuggle lime plants for the Quintana Roo region or Tabasco whatever they risk in bringing the infected material. At the moment there is no lime tree available in the country, it is going to be a few more months the nurseries in the south are starting to produce. Now they do have to produce everything under screen, that are requirements so that you prevent the infection, so it has to be produce under screen houses, at that point in a few months time there is going to be trees that people are going to be able to buy it back, there lime trees, and replant if they so choose to but at the moment there is no clean material, if somebody goes and sell you a little plant right now, it is an illegal plant it is not been produced according to the law and according to the protocols that are required to a healthy clean plant.” 

The Citrus Industry is one of the major agricultural industries in Belize, but with the Citrus Green disease present all over the country the economical impact could be disastrous if not contained in time.

Francisco Gutierrez- BAHA Technical Director

“It not so easy to measure the impact at the moment but some production areas in the south have really decreased in productivity and we are attributing it to the disease. We have been monitoring some of the infected farms in the north, in the south that in the Hopkins area and some of the trees, the fruit is dropping, very small fruits, deformed, acidic and so it is also starting to have an impact and as it progresses the impact is going to be even more and so it is matter of time that we are going to see a huge economic impact.”

The Citrus Green disease is present in most countries of Central America. Belize was the first country to report it in the region. The disease we understand is also present in Brazil where serious measures are being taken and in Florida which is the major citrus producing state in the U.S.

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