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SRC reports steady progress with coffee leaf rust resistant plants

Published:Friday | July 1, 2022 | 12:06 AM
Coffee plant leaves showing signs of the disease.
Coffee plant leaves showing signs of the disease.

The Scientific Research Council (SRC) is reporting steady progress with the study to develop coffee plants that are resistant to the leaf rust disease.

Jamaica has recorded several outbreaks of the malady over the years, which have significantly impacted the coffee industry.

Executive director of the SRC, Dr Charah Watson, said that some coffee farmers have suffered up to 50 per cent losses in fields.

Coffee leaf rust is a fungus that lives on the surface of coffee leaves and shows up as yellow-coloured spots. It affects the coffee plant by absorbing vital nutrients, which causes the leaves to shrivel and eventually fall off, preventing the coffee berries from fully developing.

The project is a collaborative effort among the SRC, International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Science (ICENS), Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria (IAEA).

Watson said the project builds on a recently concluded study focusing on ginger and sweet yam. One aspect of that undertaking was a stakeholder visit to Austria to utilise technology that irradiates crops.

“We are now looking to bring home that technology … to do irradiation here in Jamaica. This can see us developing [coffee and] other crops of interest that will have beneficial characteristics. But this aspect of the project is being led by ICENS,” Watson informed.

“The technology is one that is relatively straightforward. It speeds up the plant’s natural ability to mutate; so, it’s not a genetically modified crop that we’re producing. We are accelerating what will happen naturally over 50 or 60 years, to a much shorter period,” she added.

As the SRC approaches year two of the four-year initiative, it is focused on preparing plant materials that will be irradiated, multiplying them after the process, and conducting diagnostic works to identify the targeted changes.

“A critical part of the project is for us to ensure that the materials we are developing only have the beneficial characteristics that we want. So, we’re doing a full evaluation before these materials get to market, to ensure that the quality and the safety of the materials that we introduce to the population meet the required standard,” Dr Watson pointed out.

The SRC executive director said she is optimistic that the project will conclude with beneficial results for coffee farmers.