A disease called Papaya mealy bug has broken out in Lilongwe where many trees have been attacked, agriculture authorities say.
The disease is characterized by a white woolly coating that in some instances cover the whole fruit making it less attractive for consumption.
Lilongwe Agricultural Development Division (ADD) Crop Protection Officer Nixon Nyalugwe told MANA that they have had cases of papaya mealy bug reported in the district.
“Recently some farmers brought the pawpaw health problem for diagnosis and recommendations. We contacted pathologists and entomologists for diagnosis.
“It has been established that the problem is Papaya mealy bug and it is reported that currently neighbouring countries of Tanzania and Zambia have the same outbreak,” said Nyalugwe.
He said in Lilongwe, the problem has been reported as severe in Areas 47 and 49 where almost 90% of pawpaw trees are under attack and that it is likely to spill to other areas.
According to the DADO, the problem has led to secondary infection of what he called phytopthora fruit rot.
“Papaya mealy bug originated from Central America and was reported as pest of economic importance in 2009, it appears as cotton like masses on the plant and it sucks sap and weakens the plant. In severe cases it leads to secondary infections,” he added.
He said the Papaya mealy bug can be managed by pruning and burning affected branches and by avoiding movement of plants from affected areas by calling in professionals like Pest Zone Pest Control.
Removal of weeds and alternate hosts and application of botanical pesticides or soap water or Dimethoate 30EC (2ml/litre of water) can also help manage the disease, according to the crop protection officer.
“You can also apply chemicals with active ingredient of lufenuron and emamectin benzoate, however, efficiency of chemical application can be compromised because of waxy substances produced by the bud, hence other control methods are vital,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, Nyalugwe has said they would quickly meet at ministry level to discuss way forward on public sensitization before the problem goes out of hand.