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North Africa
Agriculture - Nutrition

Pests jeopardise North Africa's date production

afrol News, 13 July - The global date palm production is facing serious problems, such as low yields, due to the lack of research, the spread of pests as well as marketing constraints. In particular the North African date production is at risk due to a parasitic fungus, which already has severely reduced yields.

The UN's food and agriculture agency FAO announced this today, while launching a Global Date Palm Network "to promote research and exchange of information on production, resources and on the ecological and social benefits of date palms."

Date palms are mainly grown in southwest Asia and North Africa. In North Africa, dates for centuries have been a major income source for oasis societies in an otherwise hostile arid environment. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is also a considerable production in Namibia, which recently was launched.

- Dates are an extremely important subsistence crop in most of the desert regions, FAO notes. "For millions of people, dates are an important nutritional element contributing to food security. They also form a vital part of the culture and agrobiodiversity in the region."

Over the last decade, productivity has declined in the traditional growing areas. As much as 30 percent of production can potentially be lost as a result of disease and pests. In the Middle East, the Red Palm Weevil has recently become one of the major date palm pests, while "bayoud" disease, which is caused by a parasitic fungus, is a common threat to date palms in North Africa.

Date production in the Gulf region amounted in 2002 to around 65 percent of world output and in Africa to about 35 percent. Global date production was about 5.4 million metric tons in 2002, according to FAO.

- Pests and diseases spread increasingly with the expansion of trade and travel in the globalising world system, said Peter Kenmore of the FAO Plant Protection Service.

A recent workshop on Integrated Pest Management for date palms in the Gulf countries reviewed lessons learned from ecologically based management programmes on palm trees in Asia and Latin America, and recommended strengthening biological pest control strategies in the Near East.

The workshop also emphasised the importance of interdisciplinary research and field monitoring to discover and manage insects from a very early stage as priorities for a practical Integrated Pest Management strategy.

- Quarantine systems should be complemented by field observations and education of farmers and farm workers, Mr Kenmore said. "Farmer Field Schools and the training of extension officers should be promoted," he added.

Algeria, Bahrain, Chile, Egypt, India, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Namibia, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, have joined the Global Date Palm Network.

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