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these insects from entering the country.
"There's no way that Bhutanese can do these
things on our own," Ms Om says. "We don't have
the technical expertise, so it's a big opportunity.
I really love this work."
The black psyllid research is part of a broader
ACIAR-funded project that aims to improve
citrus production in Bhutan through capacity
building and integrated crop management
techniques. Les Baxter, ACIAR's research
program manager for horticulture, says the
Bhutanese Government is excited by the
program and "they are exemplary to work for".
"In Bhutan, citrus is the biggest game in
town for the horticultural sector," he says.
"People can grow a relatively small number of
trees, but make enough money to send their
kids to school, buy medicine and stuff like that.
This is quite important for small and medium
About 65% of Bhutan's citrus crop is grown
in backyards or smallholdings, with farmers
relying on a single mandarin cultivar and
growing virtually all trees from seed.
The Bhutanese Department of Agriculture
has an ambitious Citrus Master Plan, which
aims to commercialise citrus production and
quadruple mandarin exports from the current
22,000 tonnes a year (half the total annual citrus
production in the country) to 100,000 tonnes
within 5 years. HLB is a major constraint to
reaching this target.
In the first phase of the ACIAR program,
started in 2007, experts supported Bhutan's
national citrus development program through
activities such as trialling a sustainable pest-
management program. Senior Bhutanese citrus
officials and extension officers visited Australia
to learn about better citrus management
practices and in turn trained about 250 farmers.
(See 'Sharing our citrus success with Bhutan',
Partners, June--August 2011.)
Now the program has been allocated an
extra $1.16 million and extended to 2017. A
major focus will be on improving Bhutan's citrus
orchard management practices, including
identifying the best local cultivars of mandarin
and other wild citrus species and establishing
a national mother tree germplasm repository
in an insect-proof enclosure. This will provide
Bhutan with a source of clean citrus germplasm
and rootstock seed from which healthy nursery
trees can be produced.
Grafted trees can fruit within 3 years,
as compared with 7--9 years with seedling
stock, so more farmers will be able to harvest
mandarins before their trees are killed by HLB.
As part of the program, postdoctoral and
doctoral students, such as Ms Om, are being
brought to Australia to do research. Bhutanese
agricultural extension officers will come to
Australia to work at commercial facilities and
nurseries, where they can learn skills including
canopy management and propagation.
The ACIAR project is led by Sandra Hardy,
citrus industry leader for the New South Wales
Department of Primary Industries (DPI), in
collaboration with Mr Dorjee, national citrus
coordinator with the Bhutan Department of
Ms Hardy describes Bhutan as "an amazing
country". The ACIAR project had to get approval
from the Gross National Happiness Centre,
as any development project in Bhutan has to
benefit the people and improve their wellbeing.
Australian scientists and citrus industry
experts visit Bhutan for 2-week stints. Ms Hardy
says that because it is so mountainous, it can
take 7 hours to travel 150 kilometres. But their
job is easy compared to Bhutanese extension
officers, who have to walk for up to 5 days to
reach farmers in remote areas.
"The aim of the project is to ensure that
Bhutanese farmers are aware of the main pests
and diseases and the management strategies
to control them and improve production," she
says. "At the moment, there is a lot of disbelief
Australian project leader Sandra Hardy checking curry
plants by the roadside for psyllids on a trip to Bhutan in
Bhutanese plant pathologist Namgay Om discusses citrus disease with
Andrew Beattie, Professor of Agricultural Entomology in an orchard at the
University of Western Sydney.
PHOTO: LINDA VERGNANI
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