MONTEGO BAY, St James — America is teaming up with Jamaica to fight mealy bugs, army beat worms and other farm scourges.
The "Don't Pack a Pest" initiative launched Wednesday in Montego Bay aims to warn international passengers not to let bugs hitchhike with them across the region.
"Jamaicans love to pack and so if we can pack and pack in a safe manner that will be important in going forward," Ian Hayles, the Junior Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, said at Montego Bay's Sangster International Airport, the island's busiest.
"We are having some problems here in Jamaica with the mealy bug, the army beat worm and a couple of other things," he said. "So it's important to sensitise our citizens about not packing a pest to Florida; or for those within Florida, don't pack a pest to bring here to Jamaica."
Don't Pack a Pest is a collaborative effort with the Florida Department of Agriculture and the Animal and Plant Inspection Health Service, part of the US Department of Agriculture.
"Jamaica is the first country in the Caribbean in which this programme has been launched," Hayles said. "Jamaica is important in terms of geography, in terms of closeness to Florida."
Don McGlashan, the Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, said the initiative was "critical to the economies of Jamaica and the United States".
Exports of scotch bonnet peppers to the US were scaled down sharply in the 1990s after the gall
midge was discovered in a shipment from Jamaica.
"They finally introduced mandatory fumigation, where now we had to fumigate the pepper before export," McGlashan said. "This causes the shelf life of the product to be reduced. The attractiveness is not there and that led to a decline in our exports of fresh peppers.
"That is a clear example of what can happen if your agriculture is beset by pests," he said. It "has resulted in significant loss to our agricultural earnings and impacted on the economic levels of our farmers".
The Don't Pack a Pest programme will feature the airing of a 60-second video and signs at airports and cruise ship terminals. Other public education materials will be distributed to travellers.
The programme's launch was followed by the unveiling of a 'Don't Pack a Pest' sign in the departure lounge at the Sangster International Airport.