A virulent attack from mealy bugs and scale insects, currently affecting over 90% of Costa Rica's 44,000 hectares of banana plantations, has raised the alarm among producers and the Government.
Both are sucking insects (they feed from sap) and are generally to be found on newly-grown stems and leaves, but when they reach the fruit, they represent a real threat, as they sting it, causing spots to appear.
This cosmetic problem leads to the fruit being rejected by importers, which causes losses.
Jorge Sauma, general manager of the National Banana Corporation (Corbana), warned that the country could face severe problems if the insects arrive to Europe or the United States in a container, as in addition to the shipment being rejected, their borders could close to the nation's exports.
The attack persuaded the authorities to declare a state of phytosanitary emergency; a step which will make it easier to import the chemicals needed to control it.
The State's Phytosanitary Service (SFE), a department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) granted a temporary authorisation to purchase the pesticide, explained Magda González, SFE director. The product, to be distributed by Corbana, is applied on sleeves that cover and protect the bunches.
Preventing the disaster
Erick Bolaños, technical assistance director at Corbana, explained that the goal is to prevent a disaster, as a mealy mug and scale insect attack would entail severe losses.
He said that when the pest started, a year ago, producers invested around $1,000 per hectare in control measures, and that once the import of the sleeves was permitted for special cases, the cost was reduced by around 80%.
Bolaños stated that approximately 40,000 hectares are under attack on several degrees, while González stressed that there are insects at pretty much every banana plantation.
Juan Carlos Rojas, Dole's director of legal affairs, said that more than 80% of the country's plantations are currently affected by the attack, although he stated that the pests are not new.