A coffee disease responsible for destroying 90 percent of a plant within days is now attacking other types of fruits and vegetables in Uganda, scientists warn, in what is now threatening to spread to other countries of East Africa. This could put at risk over 5million farmers involved in horticultural and other cash crops especially in Kenya.
The disease known as Black Coffee Twig Borer (BCTB) and caused by a beetle, has now been identified in about 50 plants species especially mangoes, jackfruit, eggplant, guavas, tomatoes, avocados, bitter balls and cocoa.
“We are not sure whether the disease is crossing from one plant to another due to the effects of climate change or changes in the strains of the insect that spreads the disease,” said Dr Africano Kangire director of the Uganda Coffee Research Centre.
“It is a dangerous, severe pest, which should be treated as a national emergency. It is a threat to Uganda and its neighbours and should also be allocated adequate resources,” said Dr Kangire.
The pest, native to Asia, has slowly spread to the rest of the world. When the small black beetle attacks coffee, it destroys 90 per cent of the plant, as it does with both fruit and vegetables. It starts with the twigs, which blacken and die, then eventually the whole plant dries up. The twig borer is also a difficult pest that has a high birth rate; it produces 20 offsprings in a week and the female produces sexually and asexually, making it harder to control. Researchers now say they fear that farmers may abandon coffee growing.
Fresh fears now abound and the possibility of the bettle attacking tea like it has done in India which could put the tea industry at an even higher risk putting the country's earnings at stake. Being the largest exporter of black tea, Kenya relies heavily on tea export earning with the commodity having brought the country Sh112 billion in revenue last year.
Scientists now say that the 'species jump' — where a disease moves from a known host to new and unusual ones, is one of the effects of climate change and Kenya and the rest of the region should start bracing for such phenomena.
Written by Alice Muriranja for African Laughter
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