The battle against Pest and Disease

This is a tribute to Paul Graham, Head, Pest Management Unit.

A number of serious diseases and pests, unintentionally brought in, have almost wiped out the Farming Industry in Grenada over the last half century.

In the 1970 to 1980 era it was the moko disease in banana, an export crop at the time. Moko is a soil borne disease that causes the entire tree to wilt, then die.

Farmers lost bearing trees, and the Banana Society spent millions of dollars to bring it under control. Farmers were not allowed to move plants nor soil from one part of Grenada to another.

Other varieties of banana like the Pelipita and Fiat were brought in to provide shade for cocoa and the tissue culture lab was set up to provide clean planting material.

In the early 1990’s, the pink mealy bug made its way into Grenada and wiped out several crops including okra, sorrel, hibiscus, sour sop and a host of vegetables, even forest trees. It took many years and millions of dollars plus the introduction of parasites and predators from overseas to get this terrible pest under control.

It was not an easy job.

But when the going got tough,  the tough got going. It took a tough person to fight and win the mealy bug battle. That’s when the expertise of Paul Graham, along with Ms. Dale Francis and their team, was put to the test.

In the late 1990s, the much-dreaded Mediterranean fruit fly, plus the mango seed weevil came into Grenada. Worms began to occupy the flesh of mangoes, guavas, plums etc. We used to boast to the Trinidadians that our fruits were clean. But no more. It has taken a lot of effort, time and resources to keep the population of these insects under control.

The export of golden apples and Mangoes to the US was banned and farmers lost millions of dollars. Again Paul Graham and his team led the fight and set traps on thousands of trees all over the island to control the Pest population.

More recently, the Coconut beetle has been killing thousands of trees all over Grenada. Not to mention the palm thrips that yellows the leaves and reduces the size of coconuts to a fist. What Ivan did not throw down, the beetle devoured.

Although this beetle was in Grenada a long time ago, it became more widespread in recent times. Mr. Graham again led the Pest management unit and has continued tirelessly in the fight in  trapping thousands of these beetles all over the country and destroying them.

He educated Grenada on rat control. I remember him conducting workshops, clinics, TV and Radio programmes on a wide range of Pest problems.

Keeping constant vigilance at the ports to keep other pests out, while battling to reduce the incidence of those already inside, has been his mission and mandate.

The Farming community has benefitted tremendously and the objective of food security has been achieved. So far so good.

The Pest Management Unit cannot even handle all of the Pest problems already here much less to think of bringing in more.

But with the recent turn of events, it seems now that foreigners and locals can now open the door and bring in anything. So we can look out for Cobras, mappippi and other dangerous snakes that lay their eggs in the soil, plus a host of other terrible pests and diseases, which we have not seen in Grenada. Thanks to the wisdom of the wiser.

Already the Amazonian parrots are eating our Golden apples, Passion fruits, Five Fingers and others, while the Black Sigatoka reduces banana trees to few leaves, and a bunch of bananas can sometimes be carried with one finger.

Who cares anyway? Farmers can either remain silent or stand up for their rights. They are the ones who invested in Agriculture.  The people who invest in real estate and depend on imported food really don’t care.

Mr. Graham has worked hard and what he needs is a golden handshake and medals of honour for his yeoman’s service. Instead, he has been chastised for doing his job well. Did we give him enough resources?
He probably made blood out of stone. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Mr. Graham is well qualified and recognised in International professional circles. One day he will be  the Minister for Agriculture. He is a leader and will continue to shine wherever God sees best.

Hats off Paul, continue to stand for what is right.

The Agronomist and Educator

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