The producers asked Agrocalidad to declare the health emergency in the sector due to the spread of the plague. In addition there is concern about the low prices of the fruit. New varieties are already being investigated for cultivation.
The situation of palm growers is critical. The fall in the price paid for the ton of fruit and the presence of the Disease of the Pudrición del Cogollo (PC) are the main problems that this sector is going through.
Wilfredo Acosta, executive director of the National Association of Growers of Palma Aceitera del Ecuador (Ancupa), mentioned that four years ago the sector recorded a drop in the price of oil palm, due to a global supply and demand issue. Currently, the cost of production of the crop is between $ 125 to $ 135, per ton, while the palm grower receives $ 105 per ton of fruit. “There are good and bad years, but four years in a row of low prices complicate any crop,” he said. In 2017, the sector produced 566,000 tons of crude palm oil, of which 240,000 were left in the country and 320,000 were exported.
To this is added the PC disease, which is present in 152,000 hectares of palm. The problem is focused on the provinces of Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, where there is a block of more than 125,000 ha of palm. There is also a PC presence in the Amazon (Orellana, Shushufindi -Sucumbíos-).
The Rot of Cogollo spreads to surrounding areas. For example, said the representative of Ancupa, in Quinindé about 4,000 hectares of palm were destroyed by the disease between 2017 and 2018. “We believe that all affected areas will disappear between three and four years,” he said.
The presence of the PC in Ecuador is not new. Between 1985 and 1992 the disease ended with 19,000 ha of palm in the Amazon, then moved to San Lorenzo where it destroyed 21,000 hectares between 2005 and 2009, while in 2012 the disease reached Viche (Esmeraldas) where it affected 8,000 ha.
How is the plague identified?
In the new or unopened leaves of the plant a yellowing occurs, and later rotting of the tissues reaching the point of growth or meristematic area, which would cause the death of the plant. Ancupa adds that there are currently around 6,800 palm growers in the country, of which 52% are affected by the PC.
The union asked the Agency for Regulation and Control Phytosanitary and Zoosanitary (Agrocalidad) declare the health emergency to the sector, which will serve to activate mechanisms, such as training, technical advice, credit restructuring, among other supports.
Acosta said that the idea is to design a palm program, to plant PC-tolerant materials in the affected areas and to do it together with other crops, such as pineapple, yucca, passion fruit, banana, so that the farmer has other income that the palm takes three years to harvest. “The declaration is urgent because we need to design policies and strategies for the palm sector, because the problem is of a social nature, since there are about 50,000 direct and indirect jobs that would be lost in the next two years,” he said.
The response of Agrocalidad In this regard, Patricio Almeida, executive director of Agrocalidad, indicated that they asked the palm growers association for all the information on the incidence of PC and other pests, with the purpose of structuring routes in the affected areas, which will be together with technicians of Ancupa. “This will allow to verify the data presented and in this way take opportune actions that minimize the risk, which will be articulated through a comprehensive plan of support to the sector”, said the official.
He noted that Agrocalidad, through the Phytosanitary Surveillance System, between 2014 and August 2018, conducted 8,558 monitoring to detect the presence of pests and verify the absence of them in the palm crop and maintain updated phytosanitary information.
Of the total of monitoring carried out in oil palm 24.8% (2,123 monitoring) were directed exclusively to gather PC information. In addition, the entity provided training to the actors of the oil palm agro-productive chain on the main pests and current legal regulations.
Acosta added that the problem of prices and the disease of the PC caused that around 500 farmers of Esmeraldas leave the palm to dedicate themselves to plant cacao, pepper, palmito and to the cattle ranch.
The Iniap investigates new varieties tolerant to the PC
The National Institute of Agricultural Research (Iniap) seeks new varieties resistant to the PC. Nowadays, the Iniap-Tenera hybrid is the genetic material that exists in the palm plantations, however, the interspecific hybrid OxG is also used, a tolerant variety to the problem and that is cultivated in the zones where there was P C.
Digner Ortega, responsible for the African Palm Program of Iniap, said that since 1973 the entity has been studying the disease and trying to control it with trials at the field and greenhouse level to identify the causal agent of this disease.
He commented that when they did the studies they found fungi and bacteria, but to date they do not identify the pathogen. “So many years have passed, not only in Iniap, but in institutions in Colombia and Costa Rica where they do not locate the causal agent of the PC,” lamented Ortega.
Last week, the Undersecretary of Agriculture, Byron Flores, accompanied by representatives of Iniap, Ancupa and producers, toured areas of Quinindé and Las Golondrinas to observe the state of the plantations.
There was evidence, added Ortega, that plants of three to four years are affected by the PC, when before it was found in adult plants from seven to eight years. “Also, before you found an affected plant, now you cannot see foci of 10 to 15 plants on one hectare.” Insect carries disease another problem in the sector, added Ortega, is the presence of the gualpa, an insect that is possibly a disseminator of the disease, since it multiplies in a large quantity and affects plants with red ring and bud and others that they become susceptible to rotting.
In this regard, Ancupa promotes a campaign of traps against the insect. In addition, Agrocalidad advises to continue with the trainings to the personnel that works in the farms so that they identify the symptoms of the pests.
Acosta mentioned that tomorrow the Minister of Agriculture, Xavier Lazo, will meet with the palm growers of La Concordia and Esmeraldas, to learn about the problems facing the sector. In March, the Ministries of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) and the Environment signed the 030 Agreement that creates the Interinstitutional Committee to monitor Sustainable Palm, which has the responsibility to lead, promote and make proposals to strengthen and improve palm production that allows the country to compete in the external market. According to the MAG, today the yield of palm in Ecuador is 12 tons per hectare. (I)