ZIMBABWE – Zimbabwe has suspended the importation of potatoes and related products from South Africa after the detection of the pepper ringspot virus (PEPRSV) in potato cultivars in its neighboring country.

The decision, aimed at protecting local farmers, is in accordance with the Plant Pest and Disease Act Chapter 19.08.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, and Rural Development, Obert Jiri, stated, “We received a report of a new virus in South Africa called the pepper ringspot virus, which is affecting potatoes in South Africa. We are really on the watch because that might also affect our potatoes and potato farmers.”

“We will restrict, from now, the importation of potatoes so we can protect our farmers from the ringspot virus as we do further assessments.”

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) reported that the PEPRSV had been detected in various provinces of South Africa, including a commercial potato planting in Polokwane, Capricorn District Municipality, Limpopo Province, in October 2022.

PEPRSV is primarily transmitted by nematodes, microscopic worm-like organisms found in soil, which feed on the roots of infected plants and can transmit the virus to healthy plants.

The International Society for Infectious Diseases’ program, ProMED had recently highlighted the detection of the virus in both seed and commercial potato varieties across multiple provinces in South Africa.

ProMED’s report, dated January 9, 2024, drew on data from the International Plant Protection Convention, confirming the identification of PepRSV in several potato cultivars since its first detection in a commercial crop in October 2022. Plant virologists employed RT-PCR methodology for verification.

The potential spread of PepRSV poses a significant threat to both domestic and international trade, affecting the export potential of impacted commodities.

The South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) is actively conducting surveys in production areas to assess the virus’s spread and status.

Phytosanitary measures have been implemented to restrict the movement of host material from infected to non-infected areas.

Given its impact on a broad range of solanaceous crops and weeds, including tomatoes, PepRSV is transmitted in the soil by nematodes that feed on tubers and roots, complicating disease management.

The certification and quarantine indexing of potatoes become crucial for addressing all viral diseases.

The ongoing efforts by South African authorities to contain and manage PepRSV underline the importance of international cooperation and vigilance in addressing agricultural threats that transcend borders.

As the situation unfolds, stakeholders remain focused on implementing measures to mitigate the potential consequences on the agricultural sector and ensure the resilience of global trade in affected commodities.

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