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Winter 1997

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Winter 97 > Article

De-Bugging the Middle East
by Catherine Gianaro

The Jordan Valley, ringed by Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt, has seen its share of battles in the past 4,000 years. But now it's menaced by an enemy that does not discriminate between countries or cultures: the whitefly.

"The whitefly is a small bug that's not really a fly, but just looks like one," UGA entomologist Ron Oetting said. "It's a major pest in agriculture worldwide."

As part of the Dayton Peace Accords, these historic enemies are joining forces to halt the spread of this destructive pest with the help of Oetting and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA wants the region to develop an integrated pesticide management (IPM) system that will reduce the use of chemical pesticides. Oetting was asked to be involved in the project because of his expertise with whitefly and greenhouse IPM systems.

The goal of the Middle East project is to establish communication and cooperation within the affected areas. "The purpose was not to send someone over there to do it, but to coordinate activities, aid in education programs and help them do it themselves," Oetting said.

To better manage this pest, the project coordinators needed protected study areas on both sides of the Jordan Valley. However, deciding the locations for test sites was difficult because of the political problems surrounding these countries, Oetting said.

"One group would want the site that was politically advantageous to them, and then another group would want it somewhere else, " he said. "It was a very tedious process."

Until now, pesticides have been of questionable benefit in the Middle East. "[The farmers] have been basically using every pesticide they can get a hold of to try to control the situation," Oetting said. "But it's no different than any place else. If you're using pesticides without any knowledge of proper scheduling and proper usage, you have a tendency to use more, no matter what country you're in."

It certainly hasn't helped that the region's countries have been more inclined to fight than talk. Because of the whitefly's voracious appetite - tomatoes and cucumbers are among its favorites - a wider effort is required. This particular species of whitefly, which is a member of the Homoptera family that includes aphids and scales, has such a broad host range - infesting up to 600 different crops - that the consequences of its spreading can be disastrous.

"The only way you can approach this type of problem is on a more region-wide basis," Oetting said. "In some areas certain crops have been discontinued because of the whitefly."

Conflict in the Middle East was the project's worst enemy. As a result, the whitefly undertaking is behind schedule, but will continue in the Jordan Valley for another year.

"We had numerous trips postponed because of bombings and unrest," Oetting said. "Everything was delayed because of the political situation over there."

If a three-year extension is approved, the scientists will jump back into the fray and target their efforts on the Gaza Strip. And just maybe a little pest will forge a new alliance of cooperation among mortal enemies.

For more information about UGA entomology research, access http://entomology.ent.uga.edu/collection/.


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