Plant diseases and their control by biological means in Cuba
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Beginning in 1989, the breakup of the Soviet Bloc disrupted trade and cut off Cuba's source of subsidized fuel oil, making many modern agricultural practices impossible, including the wide use of pesticides. Among Cuba's responses was an emphasis on biological control of plant diseases. Research into biological control began in the 1930s, and after the revolution many scientists maintained an unofficial interest. When the 1989 economic crisis occurred, the government placed a high priority on biocontrol, and researchers were in a position to begin immediate implementation. For example, the construction of factories for the mass production of biological agents had been approved in 1988, and are currently in operation. Disease monitoring was undertaken before the current crisis, with more than 90% of Cuban agriculture using it to some extent. Such monitoring has allowed a reduction in pesticide use. Since the 1989 onset of economic crisis the monitor system has not been greatly modified for use with biological control techniques, but an example of a successful transition from chemical treatment to biocontrol in Cuba is in banana plantations.
At the various research centers, research is being conducted in the biocontrol of vegetable diseases, tobacco root diseases, nematodes, and pasture weeds. Technical research is being done on mass production of inoculum, the production of application formulations, and storage of biocontrol products. Because wide use of biocontrol agents was urgently desired, the government cooperated at every step of research, including in regulatory matters. Obstacles to successful biocontrol mentioned by Cuban scientists were the lack of taxonomic knowledge and the need for strict quality control.
There are few economic studies of biocontrol agents despite the importance of such studies. Cuban scientists are in an excellent position to do such research. Forced by the economic crisis to act, Cuba has made a major change in national agronomic policy that may represent a significant and new direction for “modern” agricultural practices.
KeywordsBiological Control Plant Disease Agricultural Practice Biocontrol Agent Root Disease
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