Bug-infested Bananas in Costa Rica

It is not good news when a government declares a national crop emergency for bananas, but Costa Rica did just that in December 2013.

Bananas are one of Costa Rica’s most important agricultural exports but the crop is at risk over the proliferation of mealybugs (Dysmicoccus spp.) and scale insects across the country’s Atlantic banana-growing regions. The insects sap nutrients from banana plants, leaving them weakened and causing dark stains on the fruit.

Experts were aware of the problem but the pest is getting a bigger and bigger problem and is threatening Costa Rica’s multi-million-dollar banana industry as climate change bolsters insect populations.
Climate change, by affecting temperature, favors the conditions under which the insects reproduce,” said Magda Gonz├ílez, director of Costa Rica’s State Phytosanitary Services (SFE), “as do changes in rain patterns”. She estimated that these conditions could shorten the bugs’ reproduction cycle by one third.

González estimates that the pests have affected some 24,000 hectares of banana fields to varying degrees. The insects weaken the banana plant, lowering production, and can cause blemishes on the fruit that exporters might reject. Upwards of 20 percent of a banana shipment could be rejected due to quality concerns caused by scale insects.

As part of the emergency decree, producers will be temporarily allowed to import and wrap banana bunches with bags laced with the pesticides buprofezin and bifenthrin.

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