Conclusions and recommendations
Since the dawn of agriculture, wheat has been the basic food crop in west Asia and the Near East. Recent agricultural developments, diversification of food crops and changes in nutritional habits have not minimized its importance. On the contrary, efforts have been intensified to improve the quality and productivity of wheat to feed an increasing population. The approximate total area of wheat grown in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey is 30 million ha, producing 48 million tonnes. The above countries currently import 78 million tonnes per year to feed the population, at a cost of US$100 million. Only Turkey is a regular exporter of wheat.
Sunn pest is the main pest affecting wheat production in west Asia and the Near East. The pest causes losses of 20 to 70 percent, and damage can reach 100 percent if control measures are not applied.
Sunn pest currently infests an area of around 8 million ha worldwide, of which 5.5 million ha are in countries that participated in the consultation. Control measures based on pesticide application are undertaken on more than 2 million ha at an estimated cost of US$42 million.
The above situation is a cause of concern to all governments, international organizations and institutions which have set environmental safety and agricultural sustainability as their top priority.
At the end of deliberations, the consultation came to the following conclusions and made recommendations, addressed to participating countries, aimed towards the development of an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to the sunn pest problem.
The consultation noted that continuous conversion of marginal rangelands and bushlands in low rainfall areas to wheat or barley monoculture has led to negative results, including the creation of a highly nutritious food source on sunn pest migration routes from overwintering areas, resultant overgrazing of remaining rangelands and destruction of overwintering sites for sunn pest natural enemies. The effect of such practices has aggravated the sunn pest's problem. The consultation recommended:
· Cultivation of leguminous cover crops or forage crops as an alternative to wheat and barley in areas receiving less than 250 mm annual rainfall should be encouraged.
· Conversion of the remaining marginal drylands to cereal cultivation should be actively discouraged and alternatives should be sought.
· Identification of "hot spots" where sunn pest outbreaks occur frequently and the development of land-use policies that aim to reduce the occurrence of outbreak centres in affected countries should be actively pursued.
· Retrospective study of land-use changes in the affected countries should be initiated using satellite imagery and other remote sensing technologies to establish the association between these changes and sunn pest upsurges.
· A geographical information system (GIS) should be developed that maps remote sensing, meteorological, pest and crop yield data to create an early warning system for sunn pest in the affected countries.
The consultation noted that, without exception, all affected countries are dependent on the use of pesticides for sunn pest control. Although undesirable, this approach has allowed the rescue of the crop in the most heavily infested areas in the absence of acceptable alternatives. The consultation also noted that abuse and misuse of pesticides and resultant side-effects on the environment often occur. Besides the high cost involved in such control, this approach does not prevent or reduce the severity of sunn pest outbreaks. The consultation realized the risks to the environment and crop sustainability associated with continued use of pesticides and recommended:
· pesticide application only on an as-needed basis;
· continuous revision of economic thresholds according to area, crop growth, crop economics and natural and environmental conditions affecting the pest;
· improved application techniques and revision of dosage rates used;
· use of more selective pesticides, as available, based on intensive population monitoring;
· environmental and socio-economic studies on pesticide application.
The importance of cultural practices directed at the life cycle of the sunn pest to prevent or minimize crop damage, such as dates of sowing and harvesting, crop rotation, early varieties, resistant varieties and mode of irrigation and harvesting, cannot be overemphasized. The consultation noted that no traditional cultural practices are currently used in sunn pest control and cultural control is virtually non-existent. The consultation recommended:
· investigation and regulation of cultural practices such as uniformity of sowing and harvesting dates;
· application of traditional and innovative research techniques in developing early, high-yielding, sunn pest-resistant varieties;
· incorporation of appropriate crop rotation (e.g. barley in infested areas) and water management and use of resistant varieties in sunn pest control programmes;
· regulation of harvesting procedures, including two-step harvesting, according to the particular situation of the cultivated areas.
Although not always recognized, natural biological control plays an extremely important role in the regulation of sunn pest populations. Its value is only perceived when the deleterious effects of habitat destruction and pesticide overuse on natural enemies of the sunn pest become apparent. Of greatest importance are the egg parasitoids in the fields, adult parasitoids and diseases in the overwintering sites and birds that feed on adult pests on their journeys to and from the fields. The augmentation of egg parasitoids and their supplementary release during the spring were always considered to have great potential for the biological control of sunn pest. Unfortunately, attempts in this direction have met with little success, probably because of the lack of understanding of host/parasitoid inter-relationships.
The consultation recognized the above situation throughout the region, emphasized the important value of natural enemies in sunn pest IPM and recommended:
· preservation, protection and enhancement of natural enemy populations of sunn pest;
· restriction and timing of chemical treatments in order to protect beneficial fauna;
· identification and monitoring of useful fauna, especially oophagous parasitoids;
· development of biological control by mass-rearing and release of oophagous parasitoids adapted to the specific conditions of each affected country;
· encouraging national and intraregional efforts to develop programmes for using oophagous parasitoids through mass-rearing and appropriate introductions.
Successful IPM requires the participation of policy-makers, researchers, extensionists, farmers and consumers, and the sharing of responsibilities in evaluation, improvement and implementation of the programme. However, the consultation noted that sunn pest control is currently the sole responsibility of the governments of the affected countries. These governments bear all of the costs of the pesticide-based control operations.
The involvement of other concerned parties in improving the control programme, in particular that of research organizations, is almost nonexistent. This applies also to the involvement of extensionists, farmers and consumers. The shortcomings of this approach in developing an integrated sunn pest management programme were noted. The consultation recommended:
· establishment of a sunn pest committee in each affected country to include all concerned parties, especially plant protection, research, extension and farmers' associations;
· establishment of a work plan for the development and implementation of integrated sunn pest management.
Because of the migratory nature of the sunn pest and the geography of the affected areas, where aestivation and hibernation sites of the insect are almost always adjacent to other cereal-producing countries, successful national programmes on sunn pest management will not eliminate the threat posed by the pest unless complemented by regional programmes allowing the exchange of information and research results and the enhancement of regional cooperation and coordination.
The consultation noted that the FAO Regional Collaborative Programme on Sunn Pest Control implemented during the 1950s and 1960s has generated most of the information available at present. The consultation observed that regional cooperation on sunn pest control is currently nonexistent. The consultation recommended:
· provision of mechanisms to facilitate the exchange of information, research results, documentation, training, etc. among affected countries;
· establishment of a regional network on sunn pest;
· establishment of trust funds for bilateral and regional sunn pest control activities;
· requesting donor support to stimulate and enhance regional coordination and cooperation.
PROJECT PROPOSAL ON SUNN PEST CONTROL IN THE NEAR EAST
Based on the conclusions drawn and the recommendations made during the consultation, a regional project proposal on sunn pest control in the Near East (Annex 1) was reviewed and endorsed. The consultation recommended that each of the affected countries, as well as FAO and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), should approach the donor community to stimulate interest and support for this project proposal.