SUKKUR: A mysterious bug with an affinity for dates, which crossed into Pakistan from Iran five years back, has already damaged more than 90 per cent of date palms in Panjgur district in Balochistan. Agriculture department officials in Sindh have therefore been put in a quandary, as they fear that the bug would start affecting the date crop in the province.
The bug, christened Ommatissus lybicus but commonly known as Dubas, has been known for damaging date palms since 1919 when it was first discovered in Egypt. Over the years, it has travelled to Israel, Syria, Oman and Iran, among other countries.
While providing details about the bug’s method of action, Sukkur Agriculture Extension Director Riaz Ahmed Dayo said that it sucks the plant’s sap, the fluid that consists of water and nutrients, and then releases a sticky substance, honeydew, which forms a thin film along the leaves. Honeydew makes it difficult for the date plant to photosynthesise. Dayo added that the infected leaves turn light green or yellow green in colour. If left untreated, the bug could multiply and lead to a severe infestation along the whole tree, which would become hollow and then fall down.
Dayo added that authorities were taking necessary measures to prevent the bug from spreading to other parts of the country.
Dealing with the menace
The use of pesticide sprays has proven futile, said Dayo, as the Dubas bug does not itself lie on the plant’s surface.
However, he claimed that a biological pesticide extracted from the Neem tree managed to eliminate the bug.
“This chemical could be sprayed on the infected date palm and it would slow down the growth of the bug’s larvae. The chemical extracted from Neem trees is also ecologically friendly, and therefore it could be used without fear of damage to other crops,” said Dayo.
The official added that date palm farmers would be provided details about the Dubas bug during a seminar after Eidul Fitr.
He also advised the farmers to spray their date produce before bringing them to Sindh from Balochistan. “With little precautionary measures, we can avoid date palms in Sindh, especially those in Khairpur district, from being laid to waste.”
Dayo added that he also recently brought up the dangers posed by the insect during a two-day workshop in Islamabad, which was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Agriculture experts from across Pakistan and other parts of the world attended the workshop, and discussed various ways to eliminate the bug and improve the yields from date farms.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2012.
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