NIHORT Scientists Uncover New Viral Disease Attacking Okra Plants in South-West, Niger

Scientists at the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT) have detected a new virus attacking Okra plants across Nigeria.

Reports are being received from farmers across Nigeria concerning the new and uncommon virus-like symptoms on Okra farms leading to rapid disease outbreak resulting in more than 70 percent loss of okra plants in certain situations.

Okra is a common vegetable extensively cultivated in Nigeria for its high economic and nutritive value.

It is grown in most parts of the country on both large and subsistent scale, creating income for farmers and constitutes a veritable source of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and protein.

Observation by multidisciplinary team from NIHORT on ad-hoc visits to okra farms revealed an unusual symptom in okra that consist of leaf curl associated with enations or outgrowths which were distinct from the usual leaf curl and/or vein yellowing symptoms known with virus-infected okra plants.

Also, a high population of aphids and leafhoppers were observed on the leaves of okra plants in farms that were inspected.

This epidemic has assumed a nationwide occurrence having been reported in Southwest states like; Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Lagos, and Niger state in North Central.

Farmers are urged to look out for the symptoms of the new virus: high population of aphids and leafhoppers (vectors); and initial expression of small pin-head enations or outgrowths on the under surface of okra leaves. This is followed by a warty and rough texture of leaves, with leaves curling upwards. Affected plants show a twisting of the necrotic leaves becoming thick and leathery.

The curling and enations are more prevalent on leaves that develop soon after infection than in later leaves, and okra plants are severely stunted with small fruits mostly deformed, which make it unfit for marketing.

In view of the devastating and negative economic impact on okra farmers nationwide, NIHORT is on the alert to curtail the outbreak. Also, the Institute wants the numerous stakeholders across the country to be aware of this potential threat to okra production.

NIHORT feels it is expedient to keep farmers abreast of this development and the associated symptoms of this new virus attack, especially the farmers that are yet to experience the occurrence of these insect pests.

Meanwhile, the palliative/interim control measure that could be adopted to contain these evasive vectors is spraying the okra farm(s) with synthetic insecticide at 20ml/15lt of water weekly under severe infestations, while research is being intensified.