Campaign to fight cereal pest in south

The Ministry of Agriculture has launched a campaign against the cereal leaf miner (Syringopais temperatella) in Karak, 140km south of Amman, officials said, in a bid to help farmers curb a possible infestation of the pest, which attacks wheat and other cereals.

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“We expect 25,000-30,000 dunums [1 dunum = 1,000 sqm] of land to be infected in Karak,” Aktham Mdanat, director of the Karak Agriculture Department, told IRIN. “It is vital to enlighten farmers about pre-cultivation measures and to start pesticide spraying immediately,” he said.

The Karak governorate is expected to plant 90,000 dunums of wheat this year, said Mdanat.

Cereal leaf miner, first reported in Jordan more than 50 years ago, threatens wheat and barley crops mainly in the south because of drought and a lack of proper crop rotation.

The National Centre for Agriculture Research and Extension (NCARE), with the Karak Agriculture Department, opened three farmer field schools (FFSs) this summer in the governorate, which will disseminate information about fighting the worm. The project is supported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“The schools are held in the areas of Southern Mazar, Kasbet Al-Karak and Al-Qasr. Each school includes 15 farmers who meet regularly to discuss agricultural issues and do experiments in the field,” said Nayel al-Kawalit, FFS supervisor at the Ministry of Agriculture.

“Karak Agriculture Department is also planning extension campaigns in October against the cereal leaf miner. It is the time when farmers start ploughing to prepare their land for sowing wheat in November and December,” Mdanat said. The worm starts to appear in late January.

''Deep ploughing exposes the larvae to the sun and helps kill a good number of them. As soon as the worm is detected [late January and February] pesticide should be sprayed.''

Fighting cereal leaf miner

“Deep ploughing exposes the larvae to the sun and helps kill a good number of them. As soon as the worm is detected [late January and February] pesticide should be sprayed,” Mdanat said.

“Last year, the worm infected vast tracts of land but following these methods, we were able to save 95 percent of the infected fields,” he said.

Pesticide spraying and ploughing are effective only if done at the right time, according to Hanna Mdanat, insect specialist at NCARE, Rabba Department. “We are working on resistant and disease-enduring strains of wheat to plant in the future,” he told IRIN.

Drought

The pest has also been detected the past few years in Ar Ramtha in the northwest but did not infect vast fields as it did in the south. “Drought had hit the southern areas and such conditions trigger worm infestation,” Hanna Mdanat said.

“In addition, farmers in Karak plant the same crop in the infected land every year. It is important to adopt the three-year cycle to break the lifecycle of the worm,” he said. Lentil and chickpea rotate with cereal, principally wheat.

According to Aktham Mdanat, Karak plants 150,000-160,000 dunums of cereals every year and produces a good part of the kingdom’s output. “The governorate has a population of 200,000 people and 70 percent of them work in agriculture,” he said.

According to a Ministry of Agriculture official, Karak produced 7,388 tonnes of wheat in 2007 of the 39,485 tonnes produced nationwide during the year.

From self-sufficiency to importer

Jordan was once self-sufficient in wheat production and an exporter. However, since 1988 it has been importing the cereal. About 40,000 tonnes were locally produced in 2007 against 1,011,110 tonnes imported the same year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Drought, the loss of agricultural land due to expanding urban areas and poor methods of fighting plant diseases are some of the reasons for the decline, according to specialists. Agricultural land has shrunk and cannot meet the food demands of the increasing population of 6 million people.

At the World Food Summit in held in Rome in June, the FAO said Jordan was one of seven countries that were highly vulnerable to rising food costs. The others are the Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, Niger, Moldova and Zimbabwe.

dvh/ar/mw