Following complaints by farmers in Jamaica about their watermelon yields being affected by a “mystery disease”, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has been dedicating efforts and resources to finding a solution to the problem.
Demonstration plots have been established by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) in St. Elizabeth and Manchester, the two main parishes of contention, to find workable solutions.
Principal Director, Technical Services RADA, Dr. Lisa Myers Morgan, said the situation of watermelons being rotted or hollow on the inside while appearing healthy and robust on the outside was experienced by some farmers from as far back as 2020.
The situation, she explained, can only be detected when the watermelon is cut, noting that the unexpected and mystifying rot on the inside has reportedly been severely affecting production, forcing some farmers to halt cultivation considering considerable losses.
“From as early as 2020, the farmers in the Pedro Plains area of St. Elizabeth began complaining of their watermelons being affected by what they believed was some strange disease,” Mrs. Myers Morgan told JIS News in a recent interview.
“The fruits were looking pretty on the outside… nice sizes… but once you cut the watermelon… the inside looked bad. The Ministry’s technical team was called in as this was an issue the farmers had never had before.”
Dr. Myers Morgan said it was equally mystifying to the Ministry in the initial stages, noting that the technical team, inclusive of the Land Division Department, went about conducting soil testing and other interventions.
“We went from testing the nutrients in the soil to sending out questionnaires to farmers to see if they have been doing anything differently than they have been doing before,” she said, adding that, based on the findings, “we then ruled out that it was a disease problem.
“We also discovered from a previous assessment that was done that the causal agents were more of an abiotic nature [abiotic components include physical conditions and non-living resources that affect living organisms in terms of growth, maintenance, and reproduction… meaning something to do with the practices. We realised that water and the use of nutrients were very important,” Dr. Myers Morgan added.
She said that a lot of data had been collected to be analysed for more information to guide the way forward.