Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Parasitoids to attack ‘Piti Makuna’ reach Sri Lanka

Close to 50,000 parasitoids provided by the Department of Agriculture, USA reached the island yesterday in order to act as a natural predator to combat the ‘Piti Makuna’, also known as the mealy bug (Pseudococcidae family). However, the Department of Agriculture here is still to release them to the environment as more studies need to be done to monitor how the weather in the island will affect the parasitoids.

“A similar operation of introducing a natural predator to combat the pest was conducted in 1972, when insecticoids were used to annihilate the black headed caterpillar that was destroying the coconut crops in Sri Lanka,” Hayleys Agro Products Limited, Head Crop Protection Division, General Manager M.S. Gamage told The Bottom Line, “It’s a form of biological control and many countries including the US use it to combat the mealy bug.”

Hayleys Agro along with other private agro chemical manufacturers is due to meet officials from the Department of Agriculture this week to discuss how to best curtail the mealy bug menace. “This is a national issue,” Gamage stated, “We need to join forces from stopping the spread of this alien infestation on our crops.”
Already the mealy bug has spread to seven districts in the island and according to Gamage has reached the Kegalle District this week. “Colombo, Puttalam. Gampaha and Kalutara have been severely affected while Kurunegala, Galle and Puttalam have also been hit by the white, flaky looking insect.” Although Sri Lanka’s vital cash crops of tea, rubber and coconut are not affected by the menace so far, Gamage states that export foliage crops in the Western Province and milky fruit crops such as rambuttan have been severely affected.

The mealy bug is believed to have entered Sri Lanka through imported crops in mid 2007 and is a pest that has caused damages to much cultivation in over 25 countries across the world. “Juicy and milky plants such as papaya, jackfruit, hibiscus, frangipani (araliya) and rambuttan fall prey to this bug which has an alarming rate of multiplying.” Gamage explained that each bug produces 300-600 eggs at a time and lays eggs every 3-4 days. Each bug lives up to a maximum of 30 days. “The eggs once laid are covered with a layer of cutin (wax) and the reason we urge people to spray water mixed with soap and kerosene on to the affected parts because this removes that layer of wax and leaves the eggs susceptible to the elements.”
He explained that heavy showers for over 3-4 hours will help destroy the menace and exposing them to the elements may help decrease populations by 40%. “However, we need to promote more awareness among homeowners and farmers who have their plants exposed to the mealy bug. They must burn and destroy the infected plant to ensure the bug does not spread. This is a national issue and we must take action now to prevent this bug from spreading further.”

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