MUSCAT, JULY 21 – Papayas have made a comeback in a major way at the fruit shops in Salalah. For five years the papayas have been fighting the mealybugs, but now the Agriculture Research Centre at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Dhofar Governorate has successfully found a solution. The result of the environmentally safe solution is that a variety of papayas is available at all the fruit stalls during the current khareef season.
As part of the study, certain parasites are being reared at the Agricultural Entomology Laboratory in Salalah.
“This is the ideal season for mealybugs — the humidity is high and the temperature is right. So we are rearing the parasites currently and after one month we will release them to different farms to control the mealy bugs. We have been doing so and the results have been successful,” said Siham Adam Bait Jabhoon, Entomologist Researcher based in Salalah. Currently she has a colony of mealybugs growing on potatoes. These bugs feed on the sap of the plant and are found in many hosts including tropical fruit trees and ornamental plants. Mealybugs have many species but the one that attacks papayas are known as Paracoccus maginatus.
“They live in association with each other on the same place. One of them lives depending on the tree and can damage the tree, while the other lives in the same place controlling the problem. So we are rearing these insect enemies here in the lab and when they are released they control the insects without any side effect to the plant, fields, farms and soil. The chosen parasite is Acerophagus papaya,” explained Siham.
The parasite that is not visible to naked eyes has been the best suitable remedy to cure the papaya plants from the mealy bugs — the white soft bugs. A female mealy bug can produce about 500 eggs in her lifetime, which is around 40 days.
“The parasite almost mummifies the bug as it is covered completely and the mother (parasite) releases the eggs inside the insect so they feed on the insect that eventually dies while the parasites after two weeks develop wings and fly out and the whole cycle is repeated.
There are five more species of mealybugs found in Salalah. The one that infested our papayas has been paracoccus maginatus. To control them we are releasing the parasites seasonally especially when there is high humidity and high temperature so mainly in summer.”
The research took three years during which there were also studies on how other countries handled the problem and exchange of information between international experts. Finally, Salalah had to come with its own unique solution.
“This is not the only way we are fighting the mealy bugs. We are using other methods too to bring back the level of papaya production. Five years ago we could not find the papayas in any of our supermarkets. Now they are back,” said Siham.