Virus cuchara destroying tomato crop as scientists look for solutions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scientists from the Universidad de Costa Rica are fighting against the spread of the spoon virus, the local name given to a disease that is attacking tomato plantations since 2012.

The virus is known formally as the Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus as it turns leaves yellowish and causes them to curve towards their inside, giving the appearance of a spoon.

The white fly spreads it. When many of these flies defecate over the plants, the excrement produces a fungus that interferes with the process photosynthesis to shrivel up the leaves and decrease tomato production. To find alternatives to eradicate the disease, the Universidad de Costa Rica organized a conference on Tuesday at its facilities in Grecia, Alajuela.

Enrique Moriones director of the Instituto de Hortofruticultura Subtropical y Mediterránea led the activity.

The expert recalled how this virus appeared in warm-weather countries at the end of the 80s and how other viruses from the same family may also impact cucumber and melon plants. One of the measures to fight the virus is by using special plastics that block ultraviolet radiation at greenhouses and keep the white fly away, according to Moriones.

He also explained that another successful strategy is to treat the plantations with a product similar to salicylic acid, which allows the plants to activate their own immune systems.

In Costa Rica, fighting the virus is a little harder than in other countries, since there are two different types of white flies: Bemisia tabaci MED and Bemisia tabaci MEAM1.

According to data provided by the Universidad de Costa Rica, the virus caused the loss of over half the tomato crop grown in Santa Bárbara de Heredia at the end of 2014.

As of 2015, Costa Rica had more than a 1,000 hectares of tomato plantations and more than 1,000 independent producers, who sell most of it to the internal market.

Almost 90 percent of tomato production takes place in the Central Valley, especially in the provinces of Heredia and Alajuela.

These two provinces also accounted for 65-percent of the whole national production. Smaller plantations can be found in San José, Guanacaste and parts of Puntarenas.

In terms of exports, from 2012 to 2016, Costa Rica exported around 973 tons of tomatoes mainly to the Caribbean islands of Guadalupe and Martinique, according to data provided by Promotora de Comercio Exterior.

The accounted for a total revenue of $1,225,000, according to Promotora.

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