Science: Guadeloupe at the forefront of variety of solutions against yellow dragon disease in citrus field

Yellowing of citrus crops due to yellow dragon disease or huanglongbing (HLB) was first detected in Southeast Asia, spreading to the Caribbean Arc in Guadeloupe in 2012, then to Martinique the following year, and more recently to Guyana. A rapid and aggressive invasion that would be fatal to citrus production in Guadeloupe. After HLB was detected on the island, estimated at around 6,000 tonnes in 2005, production fell 60% in just a few years. Faced with a lack of control means, production of citrus fruits on the region has been abandoned in favor of other fruit crops.

In 2013, an action plan called Tropicsafe brought together a consortium of 22 partners, including CIRAD, to enhance and strengthen the available control strategies for this disease. Today, the only truly effective method is to uproot diseased trees and replace them with certified healthy seedlings, then treat them with insecticides to keep the psyllids from coming back. This is what Brazil is doing. Only it is a method with a stronger ecological footprint and much less sustainable. In Guadeloupe, CIRAD has turned to other solutions, combining new varieties that are more disease tolerant with new agricultural cropping systems. Raphael Morillan, molecular physiologist and CIRAD project manager.

Together with his colleagues, CIRAD analyzed rootstocks and new varieties of lime, mandarin, grapefruit and orange trees in Guadeloupe to assess their tolerance to disease. , With these varieties we test a variety of technical routes, Rafael Morillan continues. One in sustainable agriculture, more economical in inputs and without pesticides, and the other in organic farming. Our results suggest that the combination of this innovative plant material and adapted cultural practices makes it possible for trees to survive and bear fruit over a period of at least seven years. ,

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Hoping for resistant varieties with lemon-caviar?

CIRAD aims to develop resistant varieties. One of the scientists’ hopes lies in the use of some species of citrus fruit from Oceania, such as the caviar lemon which is strictly resistant to the disease. , We aim to create varieties and rootstocks completely resistant to HLB by hybridization between these resistant citrus fruits and conventional rootstocks or varieties, such as orange trees, mandarin trees, lemon trees, grape trees… Future varieties to identify resistance genes, we explore the great genetic diversity of citrus fruits Patrick Olitralt, geneticist and CIRAD manager of the Horizon 2020 pre-HLB project, within which this work is being done. Pre-HLB The goal is to develop a variety of solutions to manage the disease, thus limiting the risk of disease introduction and spread in European citrus orchards. Surveillance has been increased.

Currently, about 10% of areas initially growing citrus in Guadeloupe are being replanted with certified healthy plant material. Massive trials are underway with several farmers. , But significant support work for farmers on cultivation of these varieties, especially irrigation and fertilizers, is yet to be done to regain satisfactory levels of production. ,

Awaiting the conclusion of this research project, yellow dragon disease is spreading around the world. The main citrus producing countries and regions, namely China, Florida (USA) and Brazil, are strongly affected, leading to a drop in production and a rise in prices globally. Producing easy peels, oranges and lemons, the Mediterranean Basin also fears the introduction of the bacterium because, although the disease has not yet been detected in the region, Scylla – an insect vector of HLB – is already present.

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