Saving the Mozambique coconut: Uganda’s Ronald Kityo discovers parasitoids for the coconut whitefly


Delicious: The author enjoying the coconut fruit

Delicious: The author enjoying the coconut fruit

By Ronald Kityo

Armed with an Intra-ACP Mobility scholarship, blessings from my family, but no knowledge of Portuguese, I travelled to the Portuguese speaking country of Mozambique in 2015 to study for a Masters in Crop Protection at Eduardo Mondlane University. This trip was  my first long flight out of Uganda.

The weather in Mozambique was quite unfriendly, being either too cold or too hot depending on the season. Under these same conditions, though, coconuts in Mozambique thrived. The southern Africa country is the fourth largest producer of coconut in Africa. With over 100 products extracted from various parts of the plant, the coconut industry in Mozambique provides jobs for more than 80% of the active workforce and contributes to food security especially in the rural areas along the coast. I had seen coconut trees in Uganda, but I only got to taste the fruit while in Mozambique. What a delight it was.

However, coconut production in Mozambique is threatened by the coconut whitefly (Aleurotrachelus atratus) a tiny destructive pest which over the past six years has accounted for 70% of annual crop losses. The gravity of this threat to the country’s golden crop inspired me to undertake research on how to curb the problem.

My research sought to find parasitoids of the white fly as a means of biological control. Unlike parasites which do not necessarily kill their hosts, parasitoids always do, but no known parasitoids had been associated with this white fly since its discovery in Mozambique in 2011.

Searching for palm leaflets infested by the white fly

Searching for palm leaflets infested by the white fly

The search for parasitoids took me to the southern province of Inhambane, about 500 km away from Maputo. There I discovered, for the first time in Mozambique, four parasitoid species associated with the coconut whitefly. The study made recommendations that, if adopted, will contribute to the sustainable management of the invasive coconut whitefly in Mozambique and other coconut growing areas in Africa.

Studying in a country where the official language was different from that at home was a bit challenging, but thanks to the design of the Intra-ACP Mobility Program, our classes were taught in English. Otherwise, we would have had to spend a full year learning Portuguese before starting the course. We still took classes to learn basic Portuguese. Three months of class were enough for us to acquire basic communication skills and interact with the community around us.

The Intra-ACP Project Coordinator at Eduardo Mondlane University, Dr. Domingos Cugala, was a very good administrator, manager and like a father to me. I was lucky that he became my academic supervisor because he is an entomologist. He was greatly amazed by my openness to learning in his field of interest because my background was in Horticultural Sciences. Thanks to him, I progressed through my research very fast. In fact, by the first month of the first trimester I had already started writing my research proposal alongside the course work. I completed my Masters training ahead of schedule and will be graduating in the last week of November 2016.

 Ronald Kityo was a beneficiary of the Intra- ACP Academic Mobility Project. The project on “Inter-University Cooperation to Train Crop Scientists for African Agriculture (CSAA) was a result of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture effort to mobilize a consortium of Universities to undertake collaborative action that is envisaged to contributed to enhanced regional learning and quality postgraduate training. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from Makerere University, Uganda and is scheduled to graduate (last Week of November 2016) with a Masters in Crop Protection at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo. Email: ronaldkityo@gmail.com

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