Integrated pest management (IPM) for date palms

Date palms have long been an integral part of the irrigated farming systems of central and southern Iraq. Dates and their products represent an important source of household income, especially in rural areas. As well as its nutritional value, date palm provides food and fuel, and can even be used in construction.

However, date palms are susceptible to damage from several insect pests such as the Dubas bug, various species of stem borer and the Lesser Date Moth, which have caused serious and significant reductions in date palm productivity and quality in recent years.

Traditional chemical insecticides are not only expensive; they can have negative impacts on the environment and human health. They can become ineffective as pests develop resistance to them, trapping farmers on an irreversible ‘pesticide treadmill’ because eradication then needs more and increasingly toxic outputs.

Given these problems, the HSAD initiative has prioritized the application of integrated pest management on date palm – a practical and environmentally sound approach that combines cultural and biological interventions. IPM advocates using pesticides only when absolutely necessary and using those with lower toxicity and persistence whenever possible; and using organic fertilization to improve soil fertility through the application of natural materials.

Other methods include the use of solar traps, which have proved particularly effective in reducing populations of date palm borers. Biocontrol agents (mainly the botanical insecticide oxymatrine) have also been used successfully to reduce infestations of Lesser Date Moths.

The HSAD program, together with its partners, has been testing, refining, and transferring IPM technologies to farmers active in irrigated date palm production systems. Trials carried out between October and December 2013 in Basra (a major regional producer of date palm) showed that IPM resulted in a 90.5% decrease in the population density of stem borers, a 33–80% decrease in Lesser Date Moth numbers, and a 96% decline in Dubas bugs.