3. Ghana: Coconut harvesters see their livelihoods affected by lethal yellowing disease (Inter Press Service)

| August 4, 2008

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Augustine Yanney has always helped his mother to produce oil from the coconuts that grow along the beach in the Ankobra region of Ghana. Like many other Ghanaians, Mr. Yanney’s mother makes her living by extracting oil from dried coconut meat. But the beaches no longer offer an abundance of green coconut trees like they used to. They have been struck by coconut lethal yellowing disease.

Coconut lethal yellowing disease is caused by bacteria carried by insects. The bacteria enter the veins of the coconut tree and begin to destroy it. It causes the coconuts to fall and the leaves to yellow and eventually fall. The trees die in a matter of months, leaving behind a field of bare trunks. Scientists have not yet found a cure for the disease.

Mr. Yanney says that his mother’s income dropped sharply following the arrival of lethal yellowing disease in the Ankobra region. A severe economic impact has been felt in other coastal regions as well.

Phillippe Courbet is a French researcher studying lethal yellowing disease in Ghana. He says the disease was first discovered in Ghana in 1932 around the Cape Saint-Paul area of the Volta region in eastern Ghana. The disease reappeared some thirty years later, but in the west of the country, at Cape Three Points. It is currently spreading along the coast.

Faustina Sewornu lives in a small coastal fishing village in the southeast of Ghana. She used to live well off the coconut trade. Now, she has nothing but an empty hut where she used to produce coconut oil.

For people who live in coastal areas, there are few alternatives. Fishing is the other principal source of income, but it is also suffering due to low fish stocks.

One proposed solution to coconut lethal yellowing disease is to replace the diseased trees with hybrids. But Mr. Courbet says these hybrids are still not immune. The only advantage of hybrid coconut trees is that they take only two years to bear fruit. Traditional varieties take about five years. So hybrid trees may give people the chance to collect coconuts before the disease strikes again.

At a workshop on coconut lethal yellowing disease held recently in Accra, scientists declared that the disease had affected some one million trees across Ghana over the past 30 years.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on coconut lethal yellowing disease