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VENEZUELA: Exotic Insect Attacks Local Crops

CARACAS - Dozens of Venezuelan plantations of cacao (Theobroma cacao) and guanábana, or soursop (Annona muricata), and greenhouse-grown cayenne (Capsicum frutescens) have been hit in recent weeks by a plague of pink hibiscus mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus).

This three-millimeter insect, brought to the Americas from Egypt in the early 1990s, ''sucks out the plant sap and injects a toxic saliva that completely dries it out,'' Greys Centeno, expert from the government's agricultural plant health service, explained to Tierramérica.

''To a great extent people are responsible for the propagation of the pest, when they transport plants from one place to another, and if it isn't brought under control we could see our (agricultural) exports affected,'' she said.

In the island nation of Granada, crop losses of more than three million dollars were reported in 1996 and 1997 as a result of the pink hibiscus mealybug, said Centeno.


BRAZIL: Banana Trees Resistant to Sigatoka Fungus

RIO DE JANEIRO - Two banana varieties developed by Brazil's agricultural research agency Embrapa are providing hope for farmers in fighting black sigatoka, the most destructive disease afflicting this fruit.

Embrapa, a network of 40 government-run research centers specializing in farm ecosystems, has been looking for ways to combat sigatoka since it first appeared in the Brazilian Amazon in 1998. The spread of the fungus now threatens Ribeira Valley, near Sao Paulo, the country's principal banana-growing area.

Embrapa's ''Plata caprichosa'' and ''Plata garantida'' are not only resistant to black sigatoka but also have higher yields than the traditionally grown Plata varieties in Brazil.

The fungus was first identified in Sigatoka, Fiji, in 1963. Brazil does not export much of its banana crop, but produces more than six million tons annually for domestic markets.


CUBA: More Hurricanes Feared

HAVANA - Even before recovering from the damages caused by Hurricane Charley, the people of Cuba were crossing their fingers with the approach of September and October, the months of greatest cyclone activity.

Charley caused losses estimated at one billion dollars when it passed through the Cuban capital and neighboring province of La Habana on Aug. 13, and left nearby province of Pinar del Río without electricity for 10 days.

Pinar del Río was particularly hard hit during hurricane season in 2002 by the hurricanes Isidoro and Lili. With Frances dissipating over the continental United States, Cuba is now keeping an eye on impending Hurricane Ivan.

Meteorology studies forecast for this year's hurricane season, through Nov. 30, some 13 tropical storms, seven of which could turn into full-blown hurricanes.


GUATEMALA: Rangers Lacking to Protect Resources

GUATEMALA CITY - There are just 240 rangers in Guatemala to protect thousands of hectares of biological reserves that Congress has declared national natural heritage sites.

''When I arrived at the National Protected Areas Council at the beginning of the year, there was one ranger for every 17,000 hectares. Now we have one per 10,000 hectares,'' Ana Luisa Noguera, director of the Council, told Tierramérica. ''Ideally, we would have one ranger to watch over 500 hectares.''

The Laguna del Tigre National Park, in the northern department of Petén, has the most natural resource rangers, with 75, compared with 44 last year, Noguera said.

''Looters of archeological sites or drug traffickers'' take advantage of the staff shortages in the protected areas, she said.

The situation is not likely to improve, given that the Council's budget of 4.3 million dollars for 2004 will be cut to 3.6 million next year.


HONDURAS: Development with a Dose of Conservation

TEGUCIGALPA - Productive projects and environmental conservation efforts will be carried out in parallel in at least 80 communities in the desert south of Honduras, along the El Salvador border, presidential spokeswoman Armida López Contreras told Tierramérica.

With the backing of Swedish cooperation, the projects are set to begin in three months.

''By giving people the opportunity to work on productive initiatives that are friendly to nature we can fight to serious problems: poverty and environmental degradation,'' said López Contreras.

Governor Soraya Reyes, of the southern department of Valle, told Tierramérica that neglect has driven many local communities into poverty, and that malnutrition now reaches 32.2 percent.

Valle is home to 156,023 people, most living in situations of extreme poverty, according to the United Nations.

* Source: Inter Press Service.

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