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Workers claim sabotage at St Augustine Nurseries

Saturday, March 17, 2018
St Augustine Nurseries provide a wide range of exotic fruit and flower plants for private and commercial use. PICTURES ABRAHAM DIAZ

Employees at the St Augustine Nurseries are claiming sabotage at the farm to facilitate the Government’s new housing project. The workers were informed several weeks ago that the presence of the yellow dragon disease affected hundreds of citrus trees at the facility, rendering the fruit tasteless, and that the trees needed to be cut down.

Workers claimed the timing was “just too convenient.”

One worker said, “All the time we have been planting the land and we had no such problems. Just before Government announced the plan to build public houses, suddenly the problem is detected and the only suggestion is to cut down the trees as they are diseased.”

A plant propagator for the past 15 years asked, “If this problem is so widespread, why isn’t it affecting private farmers and others outside of this farm? When we speak to farmers outside we are puzzled because it seems that it is here alone that is affected.”

Another plant propagator said it was baffling. “If there was a widespread disease affecting citrus trees, it would not remain confined to the St Augustine Nurseries alone,” he added.

“The expert brought in by the Government advised we should cut down the trees, but this is not necessary because we can treat it.”

Citrus-greening disease, or yellow dragon disease as it is commonly referred to, was originally thought to be a viral disease but was later discovered to be carried by insect vectors. Also known as HLB, such infections can arise in various climates and is often associated with different species of psyllid insects.

Meanwhile, the workers are upset over what they claim is a move to close the facility, which will result in the destruction of the carefully manufactured germ plasm which T&T is famous for.

As the only Caribbean nation possessing a collection of germ plasm, this resource was said to be vitally important for the maintenance of biological diversity and food security.

Germ plasm are living genetic resources such as seeds or tissues that are maintained for the purpose of animal and plant breeding, preservation, and other research uses.

These resources may take the form of seed collections stored in seed banks and trees growing in nurseries.

According to president of the Agricultural Society of T&T (ASTT) Dhano Sookoo, “It is a prize collection that is not located anywhere else in the Caribbean. This germ plasm took over 70 years to develop under strict scientific conditions, proper climatic conditions, nutrient content in the soil, and other factors.

“This is the heartbeat and bedrock of the agriculture sector in this country because when you destroy the germ plasm, you no longer have plants to propagate to sell to the public. It is an issue that will affect all of T&T.”

She said contrary to what the Prime Minister and others were claiming, “it is not just some trees we are losing. The country is losing a part of its heritage as this is not simply a parcel of land where you have trees existing, it is a prize collection of exotic fruits of T&T and the Caribbean.”

They are expected to deliver a letter to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley tomorrow morning inviting him to meet with the ASTT and other stakeholders.

Housing Minister Randall Mitchell denied any involvement or knowledge about this and directed Sunday Guardian to talk to Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat, who did not respond to text messages or phone calls.


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