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Sweet potato and yam shortage forecast in Barbados due to climate and disease

A leading root crop producer has forecasted a shortage of sweet potatoes and yams in Barbados in the upcoming months, attributing the anticipated scarcity to a combination of low rainfall and a heatwave during the wet season. Richard Armstrong, a seasoned farmer with over four decades of experience, has highlighted a more concerning outlook with dwindling yields of these staples due to the combined effects of crop disease, extreme heat, and drought. Armstrong has called for collaborative efforts between the authorities and the University of the West Indies to address this issue.

Armstrong has observed that this year's rainy season's high temperatures, particularly in August and September, could severely impact yields. The farmer noted that both crops are already facing significant threats from microorganisms, with the situation exacerbated by the year's record-breaking heat, about 1.37 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

He explained that the heat and dry conditions experienced last year halved his yam crop yield compared to the previous year, emphasizing the critical impact of such weather patterns on crop production. Armstrong also highlighted the role of a complex of viruses, particularly affecting sweet potato, which stunts the vine's growth by reducing its photosynthesis capabilities, with white flies as the main virus carriers. He pointed out that there is currently no cure for this virus complex, which includes the sweet potato chlorotic stunt virus (SPCSV), identified as a major cause of crop damage.

The challenges faced by sweet potato and yam crops in Barbados are part of a broader issue affecting the Caribbean, where changing climate conditions and viral diseases have created a potential crisis for these key elements of regional food security. Armstrong emphasized that the crisis in sweet potato production is primarily linked to environmental conditions rather than a decrease in cultivation efforts.


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