On 5 October, farmer Muhammad Tulaib woke up to the news that red palm weevils - a large species of beetle locally known as ‘sussit el-nakhil’ - were found in one of the oases in his home governorate of Wadi al-Jadid in the southwest of Egypt.
“Everyone is panicking here. We totally depend on palm farming to earn our living,” Tulaib, a father of three who has 700 palm trees in Wadi al-Jadid, told IRIN by telephone. “The weevil is very dangerous… it is the talk of the governorate today. You can hear everybody talking about it in every house and every street.”
Red palm weevils are pests to palm plantations because their larvae make holes up to a metre long in the trunks of palm trees, often killing their hosts.
Weevils were found in Kharga Oasis, which has 515,000 palms of a total 1.25 million in the governorate’s four oases, according to Muhammed Salman Ahmed, head of the extension department at the Ministry of Agriculture in Wadi al-Jadid.
Of the 51 palms in Kharga on which weevils were found, 45 have been destroyed, Ahmed said on 9 November. “More than 126,000 palm trees were inspected and 4,388 were sprayed with preventive pesticides. Both measures are ongoing,” he said.
This is the second time weevils have been found in Wadi al-Jadid.
“The first time happened in Farafrah Oasis in 2005 but we were not that concerned then because the palms in that oasis are not high quality like the ones we have in Kharga,” Ahmed said. “Furthermore, in 2005 the government fully supported the treatment campaign, providing insecticides, spraying equipment, fuel, manpower and heavy equipment to bury infected trees. This time the government is only partially supportive. Farmers have to buy the insecticides and they are quite expensive.”
Backbone of the economy
palm weevils are pests to palm plantations because their larvae make
holes up to a metre long in the trunks of palm trees, often killing
Although Wadi al-Jadid’s 1.25 million palms make up just seven percent of the country’s 17 million palms, the palm industry is critical for livelihoods in the governorate, Ahmed said. “Palm trees are the backbone of the economy here. They are very important for people’s living. It is a desert governorate and its climate does not allow for the cultivation of other trees or crops.”
“Many people are poor… they wait for date-picking season every year to do important things in their lives like paying a daughter’s marriage expenses or sorting out financial problems,” he said.
The governorate has more than 27 date packaging units, which depend on manpower. Any negative impact on the date industry will affect people working in these factories, Ahmed said.
Ahmed called on farmers to continually inspect their trees and inform the ministry of any changes they notice. “They have to postpone pruning their trees until December when larvae activity decreases… It is also important to delay transplanting offshoots until we identify the affected areas,” he said.