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Drones being used to fight blight disease in rubber plantations

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Plantations State Minister Kanaka Herath stated that rubber growers should pay proper attention to the spread of a fungal disease associated with rubber cultivation which reduced the production of rubber latex by about 30 per cent.

Deputy Director of the Rubber Research Institute Dr. Priyani Seneviratne said that rubber growers should be vigilant to prevent the spread of leaf blight fungal diseases due to the prevailing rainy weather.

 This fungal disease was found in rubber plantations in the island in both 2019 and 2020. This year too, the disease is associated with rubber growing districts such as Kegalle, Kalutara and Ratnapura has been identified.

This fungal disease, also known as Pestalotiopsis, is also known as leaf blight due to the shedding of leaves in rubber plantations. Although the average annual leaf fall in rubber plantations occurs from February to April, the leaves fall even after the normal leaf fall period in rubber plantations where the fungal disease has spread, she said.

According to Dr Seneviratne if any rubber plantation sheds leaves in or after May, it may be due to this new leaf fall disease. However, due to the current outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and severe travel restrictions in the country to arrest its spread, it is practically difficult to inspect these crops or to control the disease in any way.

“It has been noticed that the disease is spreading rapidly due to the prevailing monsoon rainy weather. It is essential to know the extent of the affected areas to treat the disease and to prevent further spread of the disease.

Therefore, Dr. Seneviratne urged all rubber collectors to be vigilant about leaf fall during or after May. If a leaf fall has occurred on your rubber plantation during the month of May, please notify the Rubber Development Officer of the area where the rubber land is situated or call the following telephone number,” she Stated.

Accordingly, the Rubber Research Institute kindly requests the Rubber Growers to send details such as a picture of a fallen leaf, the address of the land, your telephone number, the clone belonging to the plantation and the extent of the land to this WhatsApp number 0772419482 .

The Minister pointed out that for the first time in Sri Lanka, a pilot project for spraying chemicals using drone technology was launched to control this disease. The pilot project carried out at Panawatta Estate, Yatiyantota, the chemical was sprayed on the leaves of the rubber leaves under the guidance of Rubber Research Institute officials.

Fungicide spraying has long been practiced from the root of the tree. Applying the chemical in this way is practically impossible. As a solution to this situation, drones are used to apply chemicals directly on rubber leaves. The pilot project has proven that the application of the substance is more efficient and effective. Therefore, this fungal disease was successfully controlled using drones.

State Minister Herath said that in addition to drone technology, modern pest control methods will be used to control the spread of this fungal disease in rubber plantations and prevent its further spread.

The fungal disease, which affects rubber plantations, was first reported in the Kalawana area in Ratnapura in 2019 and has now spread to districts such as Kegalle and Kalutara.  Dr. Seneviratne said that there is a high probability of the spread of this fungal disease in areas with high rainfall.

The disease was reported from Indonesia in 2017 and Malaysia in 2018. It is estimated that production could be reduced by as much as 30 per cent. This fungal disease causes damage not only for rubber cultivation but also for many plants including avocado.

If the leaf shedding is more than 50 per cent, the rubber taping should not be carried out. This could reduce rubber production by as much as 30 per cent.

It can be observed that if one fungus infects one rubber variant, it is often resistant to the other variants. However, it is observed that the disease spreads to all species, she declared.



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Haiti police riot after crime gangs kill 14 officers

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Protesters attempted to break into the Haitian prime minister's residence (picture BBC)

BBC reported that Rebel police officers rioted in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on Thursday following the killing of more than a dozen colleagues by criminal gangs.

The rioting officers blame the government for not taking action.

More than 100 demonstrators blocked streets, burned tyres, broke security cameras and damaged vehicles.

Local media said several officers broke through the gates of the prime minister’s residence and attempted to enter Haiti’s international airport.

Fourteen officers are thought to have died since the start of the year in various gang attacks on police stations.

Seven officers were killed in shootout on Wednesday alone, according to Haiti’s National Police.

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Gold-covered mummy among latest discoveries in Egyptian tomb

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One of four newly discovered tombs at the Saqqara archaeological site south of Cairo (picture BBC)

BBC reported that archaeologists say they have found a gold leaf-covered mummy sealed inside a sarcophagus that had not been opened for 4,300 years.

The mummy, the remains of a man named Hekashepes, is thought to be one of the oldest and most complete non-royal corpses ever found in Egypt.

It was discovered down a 15m (50ft) shaft at a burial site south of Cairo, Saqqara, where three other tombs were found.

One tomb belonged to a “secret keeper”.

The largest of the mummies that were unearthed at the ancient necropolis is said to belong to a man called Khnumdjedef – a priest, inspector and supervisor of nobles.

Another belonged to a man called Meri, who was a senior palace official given the title of “secret keeper”, which allowed him to perform special religious rituals.

A judge and writer named Fetek is thought to have been laid to rest in the other tomb, where a collection of what are thought to be the largest statues ever found in the area had been discovered.

Several other items, including pottery, have also been found among the tombs.

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Health crisis: GMOA calls for WHO intervention

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Alleging the government has failed to address the developing crisis caused by grave shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has called for WHO’s intervention.In a letter dated January 26, 2023, addressed to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge has raised concerns about shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, escalating prices of medicines and allegations of malpractices and corruption in procurement procedures.

The GMOA has released its letter to the media along with what it called a 10 fold plan formulated by an expert committee set up by the GMOA.

The following are the GMOA’s proposals:

1. To appoint a high-level coordinating committee within the Ministry of Health to ensure effective communications and coordination between following institutions, identified as responsible for the whole exercise. (a) Ministry of Health focal points (b) Medical Supplies Division (MSD) (c) State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) d. State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) e. National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Monthly progress review meetings of aforementioned committees are to be ensured, with Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Health or his representative. Quarterly review with Minister of Health to facilitate arriving at essential policy decisions.

2. To ensure Transparent Procurement Procedures, where every interested citizen should be entitled to know the true facts.

3. To upgrade the available computer software programme to match the current needs and to ensure more efficiency in procurement procedures.

4. To appoint a technical committee to study Auditor General Reports with regard to procurement Procedures of last 5 years and actions to be declared with specific time frame to implement recommendations of the Auditor General.

5. Review the recent Presidential Investigation Commission reports and initiate urgent actions to file legal action against the respondents. Remove all those officials who are accused through these reports of malpractices, from their current posts, until the verdicts are delivered.

6. To minimise emergency purchases of Medicinal drugs and ensure the transparency of that process through progress reports on emergency purchases, which is to be published on a monthly basis.

7. To identify alternative modes for distribution of pharmaceutical drugs to peripheral stations (e.g.: Public Transport services with identified modifications)

8. To open an “Information Desk” at the Ministry of Health to effectively communicate with and guide the donors of pharmaceutical items.

9. To fill the existing vacancies at National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), following stipulated acceptable pathways and activating all the sub committees within NMRA.

10. To declare a relief package to reduce the prices of essential medicinal drugs, through the upcoming interim budget.

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