An aircraft sprays banana fields in the Buccament Valley on Dec. 4, 2013. (IWN photo)

The Ministry of Agriculture’s efforts to control black sigatoka, a leaf spot disease that affects banana and plantain, have seen mixed results when measured against the specific accountabilities outlined in the Estimates this year.

Opposition Leader, Arnhim Eustace, asked in Parliament last week for Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar, to say what was the status of the spraying programme for black sigatoka as of Oct. 31.

Eustace also asked Caesar to say how it compares with the specific accountabilities outlined in the Estimates for the Ministry of Agriculture for the current fiscal year.

Caesar said that as of Oct. 31, four aerial cycles were completed, along with the weekly scheduled spraying by three ground teams operating within the banana districts, spraying both bananas and plantains.

He said that at the end of 2012, there were only two jeeps in operation and there are now three, being manned by three teams.

“Mr. Speaker, I would just like to note this — and I am not saying that the Honourable Leader of the Opposition is making this statement — however, aerial spraying is not the be all and end all of the control process for black sigatoka,” Caesar said.

He said that the technical persons in the Ministry have noted this and have given the following advise to farmers:

1. Regular de-trashing or de-leafing to remove dead or infected portion of leaves.

2. The prevention of overcrowding of fields by planting at the correct spacing and pruning at regular intervals

3. Adequate drainage systems

4. Good weed management

5. Adequate fertilizer application

Caesar said that the indicators for his ministry were that the Banana Services Unit would ensure the efficient control programme, attaining cronshaw levels below 4.

Cronshaw levels is a calculation of the extent and severity of black sigatoka infestation.

He said the last measurement was 1.6 and noted the closer the level is to zero, the is better, but that since the disease cannot be eradicated, efforts are at controlling it.

He said that in 2011, the cronshaw, levels was 6.2 and it declined to 3.2 in 2012 and 1.6 in 2013.

The Ministry’s target was that the number of unaffected leaves on a banana or plantain plant should be nine.

“We have not been able to achieve that. Currently, we have a rounded off at 8, but it is up from 2012, which is 7,” Caesar said.

“I must note, Mr. Speaker, because I know the farmers are listening, these are all averages. And there are many places in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that it will go way above the average and some places it will be below.

“However, we are trying to focus in these months, the rainy months, where we can have ground teams supplementing these areas where there is excessive flaring.

“Also, Mr. Speaker, in these areas, it was noted in the indicators that the minimum of six aerial cycles should be done for the year, complemented by the regular ground crew spraying. We have completed four cycles,” he said, adding that the fifth cycle was underway.

“… we hope that the weather is conducive so that in the last week of December, we can complete the six cycles,” he said, adding that the Ministry has had to contend this year with different problems affecting the aircraft used to spray the bananas, as well as “different purchasing arrangements and delays”.

“But I am working very hard with the Ministry of Agriculture to see whether or not we will be able to complete the six cycles. Most likely, we would, wind prevailing and weather being conducive,” Caesar said.

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