Low-risk insecticide raises date palm productivity

ICARDA plant scientists working on the HSAD project in Iraq are currently testing a new method of controlling Dubas bug infestations in date palm orchards. By applying the botanical insecticide Oxymetrin, which poses minimal risk to the environment and human health, the scientists have so far obtained a 50% increase in date palm yields, compared with non-treated orchards. The findings pave the way for widespread use of this new alternative to conventional pesticides, many of which are toxic to humans and wildlife.

Applying Oxymetrin to date palms forms part of the integrated pest management (IPM) approach recommended by ICARDA. This approach combines cultural and biological interventions, and only advocates the use of pesticides when alternative methods have been exhausted, costs are not excessive, and there is no threat to existing agro-ecosystems.

The ICARDA team is testing the control of Dubas bugs using Oxymetrin at sites in Karbala, Babil, and Baghdad provinces. Results so far show that that the insecticide is very effective, reducing infestations in date palms by 60% to 90%. This reduction in date palm damage could make all the difference to farmers who sell dates and also use the trees for fuel and building purposes.

Without some kind of insecticide control, Dubas bugs cause serious problems for date palm farmers. Not only do the bugs weaken date palms by feeding on leaves and sucking out the tree sap, but they also reduce the trees’ potential for photosynthesis through the accumulation of dust. An additional problem is the excretion of ‘honeydew’ by insect nymphs. This reduces the quality of dates from infested trees, making these dates unmarketable. 

Another aspect of ICARDA’s date palm research is to provide four training events for farmers in Iraq. These training courses are a means of transferring technologies to farmers and adhere to the ethos of IPM. The first course took place recently and focused on how to make the most of on-site resources in date palm orchards. Farmers and extension agents attending the course learnt how to compost agricultural waste and recycle it as organic fertilizer.