The Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus: How can we limit its spread in Lebanese Tomato Cultivation?

This thread was written by Robert N. Malek (@MalekRobert) on March 19, 2020.

As Nadine pointed out, ToBRFV (Tomato brown rugose fruit virus) is indeed an emerging disease that threatens the Lebanese tomato cultivation, both greenhouse and field grown tomatoes.

It has already been reported in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Italy, all countries with which we have strong commercial links, especially with regard to agricultural products and produce (seeds, plants, fruits and vegetables…).

It is only a matter of time before its incidence is reported in Lebanon. When it comes to emerging pests and diseases, Lebanese researchers in Universities and in LARI usually learn of their presence, inform authorities (MoA), whose advice is usually to sweep it under the rug.

This aims to avoid bad publicity, prevent farmer panic and keep trade routes open with foreign countries. Such an approach has proven particularly damaging for the Lebanese farmer who has no experience in dealing with novel pests that do not respond to conventional control methods.

To go back to ToBRFV, recent studies have shown that its transmission occurs mechanically (through infected sap), by seed coat and by bumblebees visiting flowers of infected plants and later landing on other healthy plants, thus furthering the spread of the virus.

Until resistant varieties are bred and commercialized, prophylactic measures can be implemented for the time being, to prevent and limit the spread of the disease.

These include but are not limited to:

1) Effective testing of legally imported seeds and produce that might be infected from the producing nursery/country. This is obviously impossible to implement for smuggled tomatoes that flood the Lebanese market every year, risking the Lebanese farmer’s season-long inputs.

2) Surveillance of the virus, reporting of outbreaks and collaborative sharing of information. If anything can be deduced from the worldwide effort to manage emerging pests and diseases, share info, collaborate, share info, collaborate, share info, collaborate….

3) Actions that farmers and workers can adopt:

  • Roguing off suspected carrier plants
  • Burning of weeds (potential virus reservoir) and of infected plant material
  • Cleaning and sterilization of secateurs and other pruning equipment – inter-cropping and crop alternation can contribute to reducing disease buildup, as well as the removal and burning of leftover plant debris after harvesting and weeding.

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