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Dr Avvaru Sujatha, an Indian Entomologist specializing in the control of insect pests on coconut and mango arrived in Trinidad on February 19, 2012. Her arrival is the result of protracted discussions involving the Ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs and the Indian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

Senator the Honourable Vasant Bharath meets Dr. Avvaru Sujatha

Dr Sujatha is the Head and Principal Scientist (Entomology) at the Mango Research Station, Nuzvid, India. Nuzvid, in the Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh, is known as being one of the world’s foremost mango producing areas. Before joining the Mango Research Station in 2010, Dr Sujatha was attached to the Agricultural Research Station at Ambajipeta since 1985. While at that station she worked exclusively on the control of coconut pests and this work led to the receipt of no less than seven distinguished scientists awards to Dr Sujatha.

The Red Palm Mite
In Trinidad, Dr Sujatha will be looking at the Red Palm Mite (Raoiella indica) pest which is causing devastation to the coconut industry and is also attacking several other hosts.

Red Palm Mite is an exotic pest of Asian origin. The first Western Hemisphere report was from Martinique in 2004; from there it quickly moved to St Lucia in 2005 and to Trinidad and Tobago in 2006. Several other Caribbean countries are also affected. The pest is a tiny red mite scarcely visible to the naked eye; in the absence of any natural enemies it multiplies rapidly and US scientists working in St Lucia estimated that millions of individual insects could be found on a single coconut frond.

The leaves of infested trees take on a ‘dried-up’ appearance as if suffering from drought conditions. Eventually the trees will stop producing nuts and will loose their crowns entirely.

Presence in the Caribbean
CARDI recognised the problem which this pest would cause as soon it appeared in the Caribbean. In the 1990s, CARDI was able to arrange for an Indian Scientist, Dr R.C. Gautam, to spend a year in Trinidad where he brought the Red Hibiscus Mealybug under control. Following these experiences the Institute made an appeal through the Indian High Commission in Port of Spain, to the Indian Government for a scientist to help with the Red Palm Mite. The response from India was positive; the Commonwealth Secretariat in London was also supportive.

Despite this support, there were some bureaucratic delays. However, the Trinidad and Tobago Minister of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs, lent support to the CARDI proposal. Subsequently along with the Ministry, CARDI selected from a list of qualified entomologists that the Indian government sent to CARDI.

In October 2011, CARDI signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). This will mean that in future CARDI can work directly with the Indian agency to obtain support for the Caribbean agricultural sector.