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Mealybugs threatening cassava crop

OFFICIALS fear that a pest partly blamed for the devastation of millions of tonnes of cassava crops across the border in Thailand is wreaking havoc in Banteay Meanchey province.

A provincial agriculture official says almost one-third of the total farmed area for cassava crops in Banteay Meanchey has become infected with mealybugs, a small pest that can potentially destroy the crop.

More than 8,300 hectares of cassava farms in three districts were affected between February and April, out of a total planting area of roughly 25,000 hectares, said Heng Bunhor, director of the province’s Agriculture Department. That number is expected to rise when officials tally assessments from May, he said.

Individual farmers first reported the pests, which assemble in small white clumps, earlier this year. Efforts to eradicate the problem, however, have so far proved ineffective.

“We have never had mealybugs here before, and we have no experience to kill them because they are new in Cambodia,” said Heng Bunhor, who added that plans to get rid of the pest have been hampered by a lack of coordination among farmers.

The mealybug infestation appears to have hit Malai district the hardest, said Om Chantha, the province’s chief of cabinet.

“We are worried they will destroy more cassava because the chemical used to kill them is not effective,” Om Chantha said.

Some farmers say they have already lost their cassava crops in part because of the mealybugs. Te Haing said his 400-hectare cassava farm was destroyed by both insects and drought.

“It is very bad for me and other farmers this year,” he said.

Farmer Sok Pov, who owns a 5-hectare plantation, said he lost his crop twice this year.

“I am hopeless, as I have no capital to replant it,” he said.

An investigation released earlier this year by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) warned of “widespread economic and social implications” if pest infestations, including mealybugs, affecting Thailand’s cassava industry are not kept in check.



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