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FAO's intervention stops devastation of pawpaw

About 1,700 farmers, including their dependents, are back on their feet following an intervention by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to clear mealy bug, a type of pest which devastated pawpaw farms in four regions.

Known as the Papaya Mealy bug and traced to Mexico, the pests destroyed an estimated 85 per cent of farms in the Greater Accra, Volta, Central and Eastern regions where the bulk of Ghana's pawpaw was harvested in 2009-2010.

To ensure continuous control of the bugs, three plant houses being used to rear a large number of papaya mealy bugs and bioagents which are programmed to be released in the fields in order to manage the pest, have been handed over to the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSD) at Pokuase in the Ga West municipality in the Greater Accra Region.

Papaya mealy bug infestation is typically observed as a cluster of cotton-like masses on the plants. It can be found on the leaves, stems, fruits and shoots of the plants.

The bug sucks sap from the tissues of the plant, leading to the eventual loss of yield or death of the plant.

At the handeover ceremony, the FAO Representative in Ghana, Dr Lamourdia Thiombiano, stated, 'In 2009, over 85 per cent of pawpaw farms were destroyed, with a consequent decline of 65 per cent in export levels, compared to the previous year, leading to thousands of employees in the sector losing their jobs.'

He explained that following incessant complaints from farmers whose livelihood was being threatened by the bug, Ghana's Ministry of Food and Agriculture appealed to the FAO to support a project to deal with the problem.

Consequently, the organisation supported the ministry with a $195,000 project which managed to completely eradicate mealy bugs from the pawpaw farms in all four regions.

'A recent visit to some pawpaw farms in the four regions showed that the mealy bug canker is completely under control and farmers can now heave a sigh of relief,' he stated.

The National Co-ordinator of the project, Mrs Milly Kyofa-Boamah, said the PPRSD was now more prepared to deal with any outbreak of the papaya mealy bug, as the capacity of personnel from the directorate and farmers had been built to deal with the problem.

She said the intervention was aimed at achieving, among others, a rapid response to dealing with mealy bugs and strengthening the mealy bug management capacities of the farmers and officials of the PPRSD.

A deputy Minister at the MoFA, Dr Almed Yakubu Alhassan, called on the PPRSD to support the sustainable management of the papaya mealy bug for the benefit of farmers in Ghana and the West African sub-region.

Just when the FAO and MoFA have dealt with mealy bugs, another canker, the spider mite, which appears more destructive, has reared its head on pawpaw farms in parts of the Greater Accra and Eastern regions.

A pawpaw farmer and beneficiary of the FAO project, Mr Lemuel Charles Mantey, appealed to the FAO and MoFA to step in quickly to deal with the problem.

He expressed his appreciation to the two organisations for helping to restore the livelihood of the farmers, some of whose economic situation deteriorated to the extent that their children had to drop out of school.

By Naa Lamiley Bentil & Sarah Mensah/Daily Graphic/Ghana