Africa: Citrus industry threatened by a pest

East Africa may soon face the threat of a pest, the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), which is likely to cause the collapse of the fruit industry in the region.

This insect pest transmits a bacterium which causes the citrus greening disease, which in turn deforms the fruits and reduces their market value. Up to 100% of the crops can be lost as a result of an infection. It is the most devastating citrus disease in the world, because it spreads rapidly and is difficult to diagnose. The pest was first detected in 2010 in Ethiopia.

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), based in Kenya, works in close collaboration with the relevant regulatory authorities to provide the methods, tools and technologies for a better monitoring and quicker detection of the pest in order to guide the intervention and minimize its spread.

“The Asian citrus psyllid can live in hot and cold climates because it tolerates temperatures up to 30 degrees Celsius, while the African psyllid, sensitive to the heat, can only grow at temperatures between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius,” explains Sunday Ekesi, director of research and partnerships at Icipe.

Kenya produces around 114,000 tons of citrus fruits, compared to 426,000 tons produced by Tanzania. If affected, the entire fruit industry of the region could collapse. According to Inusa Jacob Ajene, a PhD student participating in an African regional program in insect science at Icipe, “if the problem is not addressed within five years, Africa will be faced with an Asian citrus psyllid epidemic.”


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