FAO Regional Office for Africa

Invasive gum tree pest threatens livelihoods

Africa Solidarity Trust Fund builds capacity to fight back

Affected gum tree seedling in Mutare. Photo FAO/ Beauty Muchakazi

08 July 2016, Mutare - The need to diversify livelihood strategies has become increasingly important as effects of climate change continue to contribute to erratic weather patterns and global shocks such as the current El-Niño phenomenon. In Zimbabwe, consecutive bad farming seasons have seen some rural populations shifting from conventional forms of agriculture and venturing into alternative forms of agriculture such as forest farming.

Forest resources have tremendous potential to contribute to food and income security of vulnerable communities while creating alternative livelihood options in times of shock. With support from FAO and the government, many smallholder farmers throughout the country have established Eucalyptus plantations. These Eucalyptus plantations have however been under attack from invasive alien pests which can be extremely destructive and have damaging effects on the plantations.

FAO with support from the African Solidarity Trust Fund is implementing a regional project in the SADC region to strengthen controls of food security threats and better manage plant and animal pests and diseases. The project aims to reduce the incidences and occurrence of food contamination, animal and plant pests and diseases and their impact on the productivity of food crops, livestock, fisheries and forest resources thus enhancing safe intra-regional trade and contributing to improved food and nutrition security.

Through this project, the Forestry Sector recently held an integrated pest management training workshop on the invasive alien pests affecting Eucalyptus species in Zimbabwe (20 – 24 June 2016). The primary objective was to capacitate extension officers (from both the public and private sector) and targeted beneficiaries to be able to identify and report on invasive insect pests and diseases and to equip participants with basic integrated pest management techniques. The training comes at a time when successive outbreaks of three major pests have severely affected the productivity of Eucalyptus plantations in the country.

Speaking at the official opening of the workshop, FAO deputy representative David Mfote noted that the magnitude of infestation that the invasive pests have caused on Eucalyptus required the development of a critical mass of knowledgeable people to work in close cooperation with farmers and assist them in dealing with challenges of forest pests and diseases. “Sustainable forest management has significant potential to contribute to food security and incomes of vulnerable rural communities,” he said.

Eucalyptus plantations have become a viable livelihood option for many. The fast-growing tree of Australian origin has numerous purposes including timber production, honey production, fuel wood and production of fencing and roofing poles.

In the past five years, three pests have been reported to be attacking the Eucalyptus  (Leptocybe invasa, Glycaspis brimblecombei, and Thaumastocoris peregrinas) causing severe damage and thus affecting the productivity of plantations. In 2014, as part of efforts to combat the Leptocybe invasa,

FAO funded the importation of its natural enemy (Seletrichodes neseri) to act as a biological control agent for the bug. The biological control agent was multiplied at the Forestry Commission laboratory and later released in the field. A visit to infected Eucalyptus plantations by participants at the workshop revealed that the bio-control agent is already showing promising results in some of the areas it was released.

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Sithembile Siziba| FAO Zimbabwe Communications | Sithembile.Siziba@fao.org

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