The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has alerted citrus farmers regarding Asian Citrus Greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) which poses a huge threat to all citrus industries in the world.
According to the department, the disease is caused by the pathogen (bacteria), Candidatutus Liberibacter asiaticus, which is insect vector-transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), Diaphorina citri.
Department spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo said, ‘‘Symptoms on leaves and shoot include yellow shoots, asymmetric, mottled leaves, small upright chlorotic leaves, out of phase flushing and branch dieback.”
“Flower and fruit symptoms include unseasonal and heavy flowering on diseased branches, lopsided, bitter-tasting fruit with small, aborted seeds and uneven colouring at maturity and excessive fruit drop,’’ Mr Ngcobo added.
The occurrence of this disease and its primary vector, has a huge concern for food security and the loss of market access due to a major loss in the production of required fruit volumes.
Currently, the disease is not present in South Africa, though it poses serious threat to the citrus production in South Africa, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and the entire continent.
‘‘In the African continent, this specific strain has already been detected in Ethiopia and Kenya whereas the insect vector has been detected in Kenya and Tanzania,” said Mr Ngcobo.
Moreover, departmental officials have met with their counterparts in Kenya, to map a way forward on how to deal with HLB and ACP in Kenya and to minimise its introduction into Southern Africa.
“The department, in collaboration with the citrus industry, has established an HLB Steering Committee, which has developed a Preparedness and Response Action Plan and related measures to minimise the risks of introduction of HLB and ACP in South Africa,’’ he said.
Therefore, Mr Ngcobo further stated that, the minster has approved and published the relevant Control Measures in the Government Gazette No. 44188 R. 121 of 12 February 2021, in accordance with the provisions of the Agricultural Pests Act, 1983 (Act No.36 of 1983).’’
These regulatory interventions are to ensure preparedness and response to any possible introduction, establishment and spread of this disease.
‘’It is imperative that all role players involved in the citrus industry observe all precautionary measures in terms of the relevant legislative prescripts to help minimise the risks of introduction of Asian Citrus Greening and its primary vector Asian citrus psyllid into South Africa,’’ Mr Ngcobo further added.