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Pests Mar Cameroon 

By Divine Ntaryike Jr

CameroonPostline.com
— Cameroon’s prospects of hitting another record cocoa yield in the unfolding 2011/12 season have been considerably blurred.  Farmers in parts of the world’s fifth largest grower of the main chocolate ingredient are reporting flaring invasions of their plantations by capsids.

Otherwise called mirids, the terrestrial insects are attacking emerging cocoa plant shoots and leaves; and draining them of their fluids.  Experts warn the assault is causing defoliation that will eventually beget dwindled harvests.

“Thousands of farms in many localities in the Center Region are experiencing the harmful effects of the insects,” Alphonse Emmanuel Nguile, deputy chair of the National Organization of Coffee and Cocoa Producers of Cameroon warned in late January.  He added that the raiding sap-suckers were already threatening the lives of entire plants.

40 percent of Cameroon’s annual cocoa output is grown in the Center Region [which tails the South West Region].  The country’s production hit a record 240,000 tons last season.  The state-run Cocoa Development Authority, SODECAO, announced at the start of the current season last August it was envisaging 250,000 tons this season with the increasing introduction of improved varieties.

But the marauding capsids have now steeped the new production forecast in doubt.  Cameroon’s cocoa season debuted in August last year.  By December ending, exports totaled 131,989 tons – an 11-percent plunge from the 148,973 tons exported during the same period the previous season, the National Cocoa and Coffee Board (NCCB) announced in January.

Farmers fear the trend may continue till the end of the season if urgent measures are not enacted soon.  Rains do not begin until late March, about three months to end of the cocoa season in July. 

According to the General Manager of NCCB, Michael Ndoping, climatic conditions including dry weather as currently obtains in the country’s Center Region as well as reduced shading encourage the spread of the capsid bugs.  Growers’ group leaders have requested assistance from the government to deal with the pests, but in the meantime, are multiplying consultations to collectively strategize against the pests.

Envisaged solutions in the short-term include controlled application of less-toxic pesticides and avoiding heavy pruning which would speed up the emergence of new shoots and increase vulnerability of the plants.  Farmers are also being advised to plant trees that will serve as shades for especially budding cocoa plants in the long-term. 

Late last year, growers in the leading production hub in the country’s southwest used fungicides to successfully battle another menace; the black pod fungal disease which provokes rotting of cocoa cods and trees.  And despite dreaded slumps in harvests, experts say the recurrence of the pest and fungal attacks are encouraging increasing numbers of growers to go for improved varieties that should boost output in the long run.

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