Date palm disease threatens livelihoods in Yemen

A disease which kills date palm trees, on which thousands of people depend for a living, has returned to Hadhramaut Governorate in southern Yemen, reports the UN news service IRIN.

Khalid Saleh, 55, could not believe his eyes when he saw his smallholding in Doan District (some 250km north of Mukalla) hit yet again by the dubas bug.

In the past the disease ravaged date palms in his village leaving dozens of trees dead and spoiling the date crop for the following three years.

“In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the date crop was severely damaged by dubas and consequently many people in my village went bankrupt,” Saleh said.

“The reappearance of the disease means we’ll get a poor crop. We celebrated when heavy rain washed the trees and we thought the disease had been wiped out.”

Ommatissus binotatus lybicus De Berg, or date palm dubas, is caused by an insect which absorbs the plant’s natural juices and exudes a sticky liquid, which gradually spreads and in the worst cases engulfs the whole tree, which then dies.

Saleh Ahmed is the head of Wadi Gozah Agricultural Association, an NGO working to maintain date palms in Doan District (250km north of Mukalla), and a member of the local council.

He told IRIN that when the disease reappeared in his village, he immediately informed the Centre for Agricultural Research (CAR) in Mukalla which carries out spraying campaigns, but he was stunned by their reply.

“They told us that they didn’t have money and when they got it they would start spraying. The disease has spread wildly and they haven’t come yet,” he said.

Ahmed has warned that many people in Doan District are threatened by bankruptcy.

“Selling dates is a life-line for poor farmers; others get work tending to the trees. This year, they may fall on hard times again,” he said, adding that farmers were no longer interested in planting palm trees.

Mohammmed Hubaishan, a CAR entomologist responsible for spraying campaigns, told IRIN that lack of cash was hampering the CAR: “We don’t have enough money to combat the disease in all areas and we are also waiting for insecticide to be sent from the capital.”

Hubaishan said the disease had struck to varying degrees in different parts of the governorate, with Doan, Al-Duais, Al-Shargiah, Qusiar and Hadhramaut Valley worst affected. Hundreds of thousands of palm trees already had the disease in the valley.

“Hundreds of tonnes of the crop were afflicted by the sticky substance in the last couple of years… and packing factories were paying lower and lower prices.

According to Hubaishan, there are no precise statistics but he believes the number of trees affected could be millions, and that thousands of livelihoods are at risk.

Source: UN IRIN service

Date: 10/05/2009

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