(Antigua Observer) The quest to plant and propagate new resistant-varieties of coconut palms remains a top priority.
Permanent Secretary within the Ministry of Agriculture, Colin O’Keiffe, gave the assurance during a National Workshop on risk mitigation in coconut production in the Caribbean on Tuesday.
He, however, highlighted the need for collaboration between government and its development partners to ensure the crop is protected.
“Such investment must be safeguarded through application of effective Risk Mitigation techniques,” O’Keiffe said.
“While our data are yet to reveal that Barbuda was impacted by the lethal yellowing disease, we need to ensure that our practices and policies and legislation support measures which maintain the integrity of the species of coconut palms in Barbuda.”
To date, there has been no evidence of lethal yellowing disease on the sister isle.
O’Keiffe added that every effort must be made by all parties concerned to protect the country’s borders from any element that can negatively impact the coconut palms.
He said risk mitigation techniques can also be employed in the prevention of palm loss due to hurricanes as was seen in the case of Barbuda, where 90 – 95 percent of the coconut plants on 250 acres of land were destroyed during the passage of Hurricane Irma last September.
The permanent secretary said those palms that survived are still at risk of dying.
“It was determined that the water during the storm would have significantly contributed to raising the salinity of the soil to levels which negatively impacted the possibility of further growth of many of those few remaining coconut palms that survived the storm,” he explained.
He said after hurricane Irma, the ministry searched for the nuts of the trees with the hope of harvesting enough to replenish the population of coconut trees but their search was “futile.”
“Clearly, this suggests quite loudly that our Risk Mitigation methodologies to safeguard the Coconut Palm must include strong focus on climate resilience,” O’Keiffe said.