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SIRDI EU IPDM Project-Metarhizium anisopliae Production: An Integrated Approach to Control Froghopper in Sugarcane

Froghopper is considered a major pest in sugarcane, since every crop cycle it affects sugar-cane farmers by increasing control costs while decreasing productivity, especially with the elimination of the preferential market for Belize’s sugar. Hence, it is important to start adapting more environmentally friendly controls by deterring the use of chemicals and meeting standards set by Fairtrade market. With the assistance of the European Union, the Government of Belize and the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI), the project entitled “Strengthening of Integrated Pest and Disease (IPDM) in the Sugar Industry” is being implemented in the northern sugar belt. The aim of the project is to create a competitive and diversified sugar industry that contributes to a sustainable environment in sugar production in Belize. The incorporation of an Integrated Pest and Disease Management program which is based on ecological principles, considering the agro-system as a whole, is to complement and reinforce what farmers have been practicing in their fields. These practices include the on-time application of mechanical, cultural and biological control methods.

Figure 1. The general mode of infection of an entomopathogenic fungus: a.)Conidia b.)Germination of conidia c.)Adhesion d.)Penetration and e.)Sporulation of corpse.

With the assistance of the European Union, the Government of Belize and the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI), the project entitled “Strengthening of Integrated Pest and Disease (IPDM) in the Sugar Industry” is being implemented in the northern sugar belt. The aim of the project is to create a competitive and diversified sugar industry that contributes to a sustainable environment in sugar production in Belize. The incorporation of an Integrated Pest and Disease Management program which is based on ecological principles, considering the agro-system as a whole, is to complement and reinforce what farmers have been practicing in their fields. These practices include the on-time application of mechanical, cultural and biological control methods.

The use of a biological agent such as Metarhizium anisopliae, presents a “new” and integrated approach to prevent and control froghopper infestation. On the other hand, studies have demonstrated that irrational use of pesticides for its control leads to serious environmental and human health problems, as well as pest resistance.

The process required in obtaining an effective biological pesticide such as metarhizium is: collection, isolation, characterization and multiplication. It is crucial to perform this process correctly so as to establish the base for the future development of the fungus. This fundamental step requires to develop a complete profile of the entomopathogenic fungus in order to be evaluated as a potential biological agent for its multiplication. Metarhizium anisopliae attacks specific insects; initially by attaching its spores, known as conidia, on the cuticle of the insect. It then produces an appressorium and penetrates the insect. Upon successful entry into the host body; it divides and produces hyphal bodies that invades the host tissues. Finally, the fungus emerges from the dead host and produces more conidial spores (figure 1).

The SIRDI EU IPDM laboratory, which is scheduled to start construction on June of 2017, is intended to produce biological control agents including the production of M. anisopliae for immediate distribution and use by the sugar industry. The laboratory will include the following equipped stations: a.) quality control, b.) preparation of substrate, c.) inoculation, d.) incubation, e.) drying, f.) formulation and packaging, and g.) storage. As whole grain, the rice (substrate) is washed, dried and placed on autoclavable bags. After sterilization, the rice is cooled down at room temperature and then inoculated with a solution containing the fungus, purified water, sugar, malt, and yeast. The inoculated bags are then placed on the incubation room for 15 days and transferred to the drying room for 7 days after which the rice is washed and the M. anisopliae can be applied to the field. Each process needs to observe strict sterile practices and conditions which include the use of face masks, gloves and lab coats. It is important to constantly disinfect the working area with alcohol or sodium hypochlorite solutions.

Finally, sugarcane farmers and all other industries in Belize will have access to the Metarhizium anisopliae at an accessible price, since this biological pesticide can also control pests within the cattle, organic production, citrus, and vegetable and fruits industries.

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