“A Win for Laos and for Australia”

July 23, 2020

Dr Nerida Donovan travelled to Lao PDR earlier this year in her role as NSW DPI Citrus Pathologist and mentor with The Crawford Fund Lao PDR program. Nerida identified and advised on diseases and disorders of citrus to increase the capability of local staff and Australian scientists working in southern Lao PDR.

Packing shed – overseas investor (left). Citrus orchard – overseas investor (right).

It wasn’t Nerida’s first visit to the Fund’s long-term project in Laos. She was invited by Professor Lester Burgess, our long-term mentor in Laos, on behalf of the Lao government Ministry of Agriculture to visit northern Laos in February 2014 to inspect citrus trees, work with local officers and collect samples for testing. Nerida repeated those activities in southern Laos this year when she was joined by Lester Burgess, Sengphet Phanthavong (Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office), Sally Cowan (Entomologist, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment), Jillian Lyall (Australian Volunteers Program volunteer) and Tamaya Peressini (ACIAR).

Lime orchard – local farmer (left). Lime tree – village home (right).

“Citrus has been promoted by the government of Lao PDR as a poverty alleviation crop. However citrus trees are in serious decline across Laos. To determine the cause of the decline, citrus leaf samples have been collected over many years across Laos by Professor Burgess,” Nerida said.

Nerida gained more experience with exotic citrus disease threats and their vectors and collected survey samples that were transported to Australia and tested for various citrus diseases. The results will inform local officers of diseases faced by their smallholders and enable the validation of diagnostic tools for exotic citrus diseases in Australian laboratories.  A win for Laos and for Australia! Enhanced ability to recognise, diagnose and manage these diseases and vectors will increase the ability of industry and government in both Australia and Lao PDR to manage biosecurity threats.

“The aim of this activity was to identify disease threats through recognition of disease symptoms and confirmation via laboratory testing. All orchardists, smallholders and villagers with whom we visited were cooperative and seemed happy for us to sample their trees. Survey results will be provided to local Laos staff to help manage citrus diseases,” Nerida said.

Citrus canker lesions on lime (left). Sample processing in the hotel room – including DNA extraction (right).

Tamaya Peressini reports here on the time she spent with Lester Burgess and some of the volunteers on this visit in Laos, and Jillian Lyall reports here. Dr Helen Scott-Orr, our NSW Committee coordinator, has also written an informative piece on the visit by Lester Burgess here.