Battle continues to protect the nation’s valuable citrus crops

Curled and yellow leaves are a symptom. Photo: Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandaría

The country has been under a state of emergency to try to eliminate an insect and the bacteria that is a major threat to the citrus crops.

The emergency declaration gives agriculture officials the power to enter onto land where citrus trees grow and destroy them if they show signs of the disease, known as dragón amarillo in Spanish. Agriculture inspectors also are giving 10 days notice to owners of land where it appears the citrus trees are badly managed or abandoned. Then they will be cut if the owner does not take action even if there is no sign of the disease.

Quarantine is in effect for Los Chiles, San Carlos, Guatuso Upala and La Cruz to prevent the transportation of any citrus cutting. The Servicio Fitosanitario of the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería is in charge of enforcing the prohibition. Some trees with the disease have been found and destroyed in the northern zone.

In a few months the propagation of citrus plants in the open air will be prohibited. Nurseries will have to be covered with screening and fenced subject to the approval of the  Servicio Fitosanitario. The agency has been allocated a war chest of about $600,000 to fight the disease, which officials are calling a major threat.

Costa Rica has about 25,000 hectares (about 62,000 acres) in citrus and exports million a year in such products.

The bacteria is Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, which causes the leaves to yellow and fall off. It also causes the fruit to be deformed and to have a sour taste. The disease turned up in Florida in 2005, causing great concern there.

In Asian and in the Americas the disease is transmitted by the oriental citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri, which is the insect that agricultural employees are seeking.

A major problem is that there is no cure for the disease and the citrus tree must be destroyed to stop the spread of the bacteria.

The bacteria is called Huanglongbing in Chinese, sometimes referred to as HLB, and also called greening in English. Jamaica’s ministry of agriculture said Tuesday that it ordered the closure of the nurseries and banned the sale of all citrus plants in order to protect the $43 million industry from the citrus disease, according to wire service reports.

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