Disease Threatens Orange And Lime Stock In Kosrae
by Olivier Wortel
TOFOL, Kosrae (The Kaselehlie Press): May 16-29 - Kosrae is famous for its sweet and abundant citrus. Planes that stop here unload their passengers who rush to get some of the fresh and juicy morsels. When a person travels to Pohnpei it is custom to load several boxes or bags to take along. Thousands of pounds are exported annually to the Marshalls and other Pacific Islands. The citrus, limes oranges, tangerines, and the more rare mandarins are world-class organic goods.
That may soon change. A citrus canker, as it has been described, that was first seen approximately three years ago, has been slowly but surely killing the orange and lime trees on the island.
"We might have to eradicate the entire population," said Nena S. Nena, Director of Agriculture, Land, and Fisheries. He added, "One hundred and ninety feet around each infected tree."
Though that scenario is extreme and unlikely, Mr. Nena said it was a "serious problem" and that steps would need to be undertaken for the benefit of Kosrae in both the short and long terms.
Surveys are and will be administered to determine which trees have the sickness, and to eradicate those by September of this year in order to ward off the possibility of total destruction of the orange groves and lime trees.
The results of the survey could impact many families negatively, both in terms of economics and health. Many people derive income from selling citrus products, both at the local level and for export. Moreover, a major beneficial source of vitamin C would be diminished or lost for a time. It could even affect the fledgling tourism trade negatively.
Ilai Abraham, in his role as Disaster/Emergency Coordinator, said "Speaking from my personal point of view, the trees are not bearing as they were some time ago," and added, "I think most people realize their trees are not producing as they use to. Why, they don't know."
CANKER AND KOSRAE: A RECENT HISTORY
In May 2000, the Plant Protection/Quarantine Officer, Palikkun Tolenna from Kosrae, identified some citrus trees with canker-like symptoms and informed the SPC, Coordinator Plant Protection Micronesia, Konrad Englberger.
Englberger carried out the first canker survey in June 2000 and samples were sent to the U.S. for identification. In July, he U.S. laboratory identified one out of nine samples positive with citrus bacteria canker (Xanthomonas axonopodis citri) from a tree in Tofol, near the Agricultural Station.
From July to September 2000, a total of 43 samples were sent to the U.S. for canker testing. As more samples were sent, more samples tested positive. At this time, the positive samples were only from two areas in the Lelu Municipality. During this time, some of the canker-infected trees were destroyed by Agriculture.
Early in 2001, Englberger recommended that all canker infested trees and other citrus trees within a 1 kilometer radius of the canker infested area must be destroyed by burning. This recommendation was not followed when farmers disagreed, saying it would destroy healthy trees.
By mid-2001, canker was found in Lelu and Tafunsak. Other municipalities - Malem, Utwe, and Walung - were still canker free.
Toward s the end of 2001, however, canker was identified by Englberger and staff from Agriculture in all municipalities except Walung. Since canker has spread all over the island, eradicating the bacterial disease from Kosrae will be both difficult and expensive.
Even if the bacterial disease were to be eradicated off of Kosrae, it is very likely that canker will be reintroduced because canker is present in all other FSM states, Guam, Palau and the Marshall Islands.
Because limes are more susceptible to the disease than others, significant yield losses can be expected.