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 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
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
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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