Mr R. Miller, Cereal Entomologist at ICARDA, opened the consultation by expressing appreciation to the participants for travelling long distances and taking time from their busy schedules to attend the meeting. He expressed appreciation for the efforts of FAO in encouraging ICARDA in its integrated pest management (IPM) activities, and in inviting ICARDA to join FAO in hosting the consultation.
Mr R. Booth, ICARDA's Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation, welcomed the participants and introduced ICARDA, its objectives and activities. He referred to sunn pest as the most important pest of wheat in the Near East and briefly described the environmental and economic concerns of affected countries with regard to current sunn pest management activities. He mentioned that the countries involved had requested that both FAO and ICARDA initiate a regional cooperative programme for sunn pest management.
Mr Booth stated that ICARDA has relied heavily in the past on host plant resistance. Early small-scale field screening for wheat resistance to sunn pest was not successful and ICARDA realized that it must broaden its approach to the problem. The consultation signalled ICARDA's first major commitment to IPM of sunn pest.
Mr M.M. Taher, FAO Regional Plant Protection Officer for the Near East, speaking on behalf of Mr Bukhari, Assistant Director-General (ADG), Regional Representative for the Near East, welcomed the participants and invited speakers and thanked ICARDA for hosting the meeting and for supporting its objectives. He referred to the importance of wheat and barley in the region and indicated that the participating countries, apart from Turkey, are still net importers of these basic food crops. He added that the reasons for the present gap between production and consumption are diverse and include the damage inflicted by sunn pest.
Mr Taher informed the consultation that the Regional Sunn Pest Collaborative Programme launched by FAO in the 1950s yielded valuable research results, enhanced the exchange of information and contributed significantly to the amelioration of sunn pest through changes in traditional cultural practices and the introduction of biological controls. Unfortunately, these effective alternatives for sunn pest management were almost forgotten after the emergence of pesticides towards the end of the 1960s. The shortcomings of pesticides in sunn pest control have now become evident and their effect on the environment is recognized. Their high cost has become prohibitive and thus the sustainability of wheat and barley production has been put at risk.
Mr Taher informed the group that FAO plant protection programmes proceed along two complementary lines. The first is the adoption of IPM and the second is the promotion of the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. The programmes have contributed to the development of successful approaches to the control of a number of both general and specific crop insects, weeds and pathogens. Mr Taher added that the time has come for extending these programmes to sunn pest management.
Mr Taher hoped that the consultation would signal the start of a regional programme for integrated sunn pest management, in which scientists, extension agents and farmers would work together towards the sustainability of their basic food crops.
In his opening remarks, Mr S. Barbosa, FAO Senior Officer for IPM, expressed his pleasure to be visiting the Syrian Arab Republic and Aleppo again and, on behalf of his Director, he welcomed all of the participants to the expert consultation. He also thanked ICARDA for the excellent facilities made available to the consultation.
Mr Barbosa stated that IPM has been adopted by FAO as the leading principle in plant protection and that FAO was in the process of establishing a special action programme for IPM to promote further the development and application of IPM in Member Nations. He indicated that IPM is being implemented successfully in developed and developing countries for various reasons which include: the high cost of pesticides and their undesirable side-effects; environmental and human health considerations; and the need to make currently unsustainable high-input agricultural systems sustainable again.
Mr Barbosa mentioned that wheat production in the sunn pest-affected areas of the Near East was heavily dependent on chemical insecticides and that pesticide overuse was reaching a critical phase in which urgent measures are required if the collapse of wheat-based cropping systems is to be avoided. The consultation was therefore being held at an appropriate time to address the sunn pest situation on a regional basis and to propose measures that would make wheat production more profitable and would guarantee the food security of a large population dependent on wheat as a staple food.
Finally, he stressed that the wheat-based cropping system in the Near East is an obvious candidate for IPM. He hoped that the consultation would pave the way for a regional IPM programme that would bring sustainability back to regional cereal-based cropping systems, with many benefits in terms of farmers' profitability, human health and environmental protection.