Promoting sustainable and integrated approaches to pest management

Date palm is a key commodity in Iraq and an integral component of irrigated farming systems in central and southern parts of the country. In addition to its nutritional value, date palm is also an important source of feed and fuel, and can be used as a building material in the construction of houses. Despite its economic importance, years of conflict, sanctions and political instability have caused a significant decline in productivity. These problems are compounded by a further constraint – pests such as the Lesser Date Moth, the Dubas Bug, and various species of Stem Borer.

Farmers usually apply chemical pesticide sprays to contain the threat of pests. However, this strategy can be highly problematic: it is rarely cost-effective, threatens human health, and damages the viability of agro-ecosystems. Pests capable of developing resistance to pesticides also trap farmers on an irreversible ‘pesticide treadmill’ since eradication requires more and increasingly toxic inputs. Safer and more sustainable alternatives are therefore desperately needed.

One option is Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a practical and environmentally-sound approach that 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.

HSAD and its partners are testing, refining, and transferring IPM technology packages to farmers active in irrigated date palm production systems. Much of the work is being conducted in Basra - a major regional producer of date palm.

The HSAD program is building on the successes of an ICARDA initiative funded by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which has demonstrated the potential gains that could be achieved by shifting from conventional chemical strategies to IPM. In recent trials, integrated approaches brought a 90.5% decrease in the population density of Stem Borers, a 33-80% decrease for Lesser Date Moths, and a 96% decline for Dubas Bugs.     

These eradication efforts generated significant yield gains: a 31% increase in fields previously infested with Stem Borers, and a 16-115% increase in fields affected by Lesser Date Moths. This improved performance, and the lower costs associated with IPM, have the potential to produce significant economic gains for farmers. Economists predict that farmers making the switch from conventional to IPM strategies could see their combined incomes increase by up to 37.6 million USD every year. For those who currently do not apply control methods, figures could be even higher – reaching a combined total of up to 75 million USD annually.

IPM is a priority focus of the HSAD Program and the initiative’s team is working to extend these successful interventions to other parts of Iraq – and beyond. Recent workshops targeting date palm farmers and officials from Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture have demonstrated the effectiveness of integrated approaches to pest management. A marketing and extension center for date palm is also being developed to further strengthen production and raise the sector’s long-term economic performance.