18 July 2014

Mozambique: Coconut Disease Sweeps Across Nation

London — The non-governmental organisation Concern Worldwide US has warned that an insect-borne infection known as coconut lethal yellowing disease has spread across Mozambique, reducing entire coconut groves to bleak graveyards of a once thriving industry.

What used to be vibrant coconut groves in Quelimane, in Zambezia province, are now flat wastelands with thin, bare trunks rising from the earth.

The effects are devastating, as many people rely on coconuts for food and income. Now that coconuts are sparse, the quality of life has greatly decreased.

According to the "Huffington Post", Mozambique was formerly one of the world's largest producers of coconuts, producing over 62,000 tonnes of dried coconut flesh. This was used for exports, making oil, and consumption. Today, reports estimate that half the country's coconut trees have died - and the disease is still spreading.

Lethal yellowing disease has been found in other parts of the world including the West Indies, Philippines and parts of Southern Florida. It is a virus-like bacterium spread by insects. In Mozambique, it was spread by rhinoceros beetles laying their larvae inside fallen trees and attacking newly planted saplings.

Infected trees normally die within three to six months, and the only known cure is to plant resistant varieties of palm.

Huge efforts have been made to revive the coconut industry. The United States government, through its now defunct Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), financed the Farmer Income Support Project, which helped over 277,000 farmers hit by coconut lethal yellowing disease. Six hundred thousand infected coconut trees were cleared and replaced by more than 780,000 seedlings.

Meanwhile, Concern Worldwide is providing seeds, tools, and training to farmers throughout Zambezia province to cultivate tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and lettuce as well as staple crops such as sorghum and rice.

However, Concern is particularly promoting sesame as a cash crop, which it views as a possible income replacement for coconuts. The organisation has been working with farmers to provide seeds and demonstrate best practices.

Concern Worldwide US operates in 26 countries to provide humanitarian aid and long-term solutions to poverty.

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