Vale pioneers enhance cultivation methods for North Al Batinah citrus and mango producers

June 21, 2014 11:53 am

Two agricultural scientists from the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV), the leading agricultural educational university in Brazil, visited Omani farmers in the North Al Batinah Governorate to share the latest research and technology for citrus and mango cultivation.

Supported by Vale and in coordination with Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), the project was established in 2012 with the aim of restoring Oman’s two most traditional crops by investigating control measures against Mango Wilt and Witch’s Broom that have been affecting these yields and in turn help achieve better growth and harvest.

Research into the decline of both crops has been funded by Vale and allowed researchers from Oman to visit Brazil and understand how growers cultivate citrus and mango in order to obtain higher yields. Acid lime was Oman’s second most valuable export product in the 1970s but since then over 90% of trees showed symptoms of Witch’s Broom disease caused by a Phytoplasma and died within 5-8 years, reducing the locally-produced acid lime by half.

Mango trees, on the other hand, have been affected by the Ceratocystisfimbriata fungus, with 60% to 70% of trees in the country dying over the last 17 years. Through Vale’s work with researchers at SQU and UFV in Oman and Brazil, the pathogens causing these two diseases have been studied to develop sustainable control strategies while also focusing on the regeneration of agricultural areas in Oman and the replenishment of fruit supplies by adopting new cultivation techniques.

Sergio Espeschit, Chief Executive Officer of Vale in Oman, said, “Our established partnerships in Brazil and Oman have created the opportunity to engage educational institutions in the transfer of knowledge and the sharing of research and expertise to benefit the local community in North Al Batinah. Currently the Sultanate imports 66% of its mangos from overseas and the project will contribute to change this scenario while raising the in-country value by providing the means for farmers to transform farms into sustainable commercial agri-businesses.”

Speaking at a workshop conducted for local farmers at SQU, Fabricio de Ávila Rodrigues, Professor of Plant Pathology at UFV, and Dalmo Lopes de Siqueira, Professor of Crop Sciences at UFV, believe this exchange of information will result in significantly larger harvests in the coming years. Professor Siqueira said, “Together with Vale and SQU, our main objective is to share the Brazilian agricultural knowledge gained through our research conducted in Brazil and provide Omani farmers with the techniques necessary to increase yield of both crops and prevent further erosion of such important crops.”

Professor Rodrigues added, “We will also monitor fruit production in Oman and share the findings of our own projects in Brazil, focusing on plant pathology, while aiming to maximize our contribution to the sustainable growth of North Al Batinah’s agriculture industry. One of the objectives of our research is to obtain Brazilian mango cultivars that are resistant to Mango Wilt to be introduced in Oman. Therefore, the Omani farmers can propagate them in the Sultanate’s climate and specific soil conditions.”

Results of the Research
During the workshop, Professor Dalmo highlighted that citrus fruit trees in Brazil and Oman have suffered from a series of threats including pests (e.g. mites and fruit flies) and diseases (e.g. citrus leprosis, citrus canker, citrus variegated chlorosis and greening) that can cause significant reduction in juice quantity and quality. Brazilian farmers have managed these problems by using specific control methods such as insecticide sprays and cultural practices that avoid the spread of the disease. Some of these measures are protected by Federal Law in Brazil that secures the seedlings from cross-contamination between states in the country and ensures seedlings, mother plants and rootstocks can be produced in greenhouses to provide a safe and clean growing zone against some pests that can transmit pathogens.

Brazil is the seventh largest producer of mangos in the world but has achieved the world’s highest yield ranging from 16 to 25 tons of mango per hectare. However, due to Mango Wilt decreasing the yields, growers in Brazil have adopted enhanced cultivation techniques that Vale, SQU and UFV aim to replicate in Oman. Mango Wilt was first detected in Brazil in 1940 and appeared in Oman in 1998. Outbreaks have also been reported in India, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, where over $16m worth of crops have been lost due to disease. Studies by the researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the College of Agricultural & Marine Sciences at SQU found that over 200,000 trees died in Oman between 2000 and 2005, and 50% of infected trees were infested with the Bark Beetle. However, the study also showed that grafted trees are far less susceptible to disease and this method has already been pursued successfully in Brazil, contributing to the country’s world-leading mango yield.

The workshop indicated that farmers in the State of Minas Gerais in Brazil, where Vale originally started its operations, have streamlined farming of mango trees by limiting the height to three metres, cutting away excess foliage to maximise exposure to the sun for a larger and more consistent crop return. Farmers have also pioneered ‘grafting’ techniques where new plants are cross-bred with healthy roots from established plants.

Dr. Abdullah Mohammed Al Sadi, Associate Professor in the College of Agricultural & Marine Sciences at SQU, said, “We are targeting the most serious diseases in mango and citrus trees and the project consists of two main parts. The first part deals with scientific studies which are directed towards investigating causal agents and short and long-term management options for the diseases. The second part deals with transfer of the best agricultural practices in Brazil to growers in Oman in order to enhance production of mango and citrus. The project also provided training opportunities for Omani staff and students. The funding from Vale has allowed us to establish a baseline for research and sustainable development in the agricultural sector in Oman.”

Dr. Mike Deadman, Professor of Plant Pathology at SQU, said, “Both crops are deeply engrained in the culture and tradition of Omani agriculture, but both are also affected by devastating diseases. This is an opportunity to work with the community and build a disease-free crop throughout the country by using the latest technology and cultivation methods that have been used by farmers in Brazil and also investigated at UFV. Our emphasis is on establishing a group of dynamic and forward thinking farmers in Oman who can learn from their counterparts in Brazil to train other farmers in the Sultanate and lead a wholesale agricultural change across the country.”

Since establishing its operations in Oman, Vale has aimed to transform natural resources into prosperity both in its mineral production and by reaching-out to the communities in North Al Batinah to develop local talent. Drawing on a strong global reputation and experience, the company has sought to empower local suppliers and offer opportunities to talented Omanis in order to create a sustainable supply chain and a lasting legacy that benefits the economy and people of Oman.

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