Bark Beetle outbreak imperils pine production

Farmers resort to absurd home remedies like spraying motor oil, in absence of expert consultation


Nasarul Minallah June 12, 2021
PHOTO: REUTERS

NORTH WAZIRISTAN:

Bark Beetle, a Weevil variety that tends to feed on tree phloem, is considered a serious threat to forestlands around the world. Where the pest is a natural part of many forest lifecycles, the intensity and frequency of its outbreak, coupled with the impact of climate-change, is often a factor that in turn influences the intensity and frequency of wildfires.

The most recent target of the Bark Beetle, is the largest pine forest in Asia. Parts of which, located in the tribal districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), have already started witnessing the devastating impact of the pest outbreak.

The outbreak is reported to be centred in the region’s Barmal area in South Waziristan, where the lack of snowfall the past couple of years has left infected fruit and pine trees susceptible to forest fires.

Read: Agri dept warns farmers of pest attacks

According to local Agriculture Officer Suliman Khan, pine trees are dying at a rapid pace, which has resulted in the reduction of pine nuts in the area. “There is no local research centre which could develop a response to the beetle attack and help farmers cope with the situation. In addition to that, there has been no spray by the government in the past four years to control the spread either. So the devastated farmers have no option to resort to absurd home remedies like spraying motor oil or using locally sold pesticides. Which, in absence of consultation, are likely to cause even greater harm to the precious trees and the industry that revolves around them,” the officer shared.

Farmers on the other hand, maintained that their production has slumped manifolds in the past few years. Yet however, it has garnered little response from the government leaving them to fend for themselves, in the worst of times.

Speaking in the regard, Azmatullah, another forest official in Wana, said that this year there was no snowfall in the mountains, as a result of which the bark beetle attacks were recorded on pine trees in Tehsil Barmal. “Usually, a tree dies within 15 days of attack. So there is such short window for response that neither the Forest Department nor the Agriculture Department is able to take any preventive action against these attacks,” he asserted.

Each year, pine nuts worth billions are extracted from Tehsil Barmal, which is home to the continent’s largest pine forest, and exported to countries like Saudi Arabia, China and Turkey. Per District Forest Officer (DFO) Salim Marwat, these forests span across an area of 218,000 acres and produce over 10,000 tonnes of nuts annually; representing an industry that drives the local economy.

Read more: Experts suggest integrated pest management

“The attack was previously considered a fruit fly attack but when we consulted experts and showed them the branches of the damaged trees they told us that it was the bark beetle instead.

Upon learning, we have asked the Agriculture Department to bring experts from Swat. Chemical sprays will be used to control the situation at hand, but we have to also acknowledge that it is the excessive cutting of oak trees in the region, which is resulting in an underground water imbalance, which is in turn increasing the intensity of such pest attacks,”Marwat told The Express Tribune.

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