Iraq’s Wheat and Cotton Threatened by Invasive Weed

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported that it is assisting farmers in Iraq and Syria to battle a devastating alien weed that sucks nutrients from the soil and starves crops of much-needed water.

The berries of the weed, known as silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium), can also poison livestock if ingested, according to the Rome-based agency.

The weed, which has very deep roots and is covered in spines, is a relative of the tomato originally hailing from tropical America. FAO says it probably arrived in the Middle East through trade, its seeds hidden in containers or in bags of agricultural commodities.

More than 60 per cent of the cultivated land in Syria, growing mainly cotton and wheat, has now been infested with the weed. The berries of the weed, known as silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium), can also poison livestock if ingested, according to the Rome-based agency.

In north-western Iraq, a similar mass infestation has been reported and the weed has also been spotted in various sites in Lebanon and Jordan, where it will spread if nothing is done, warns FAO.

The agency is implementing a project to help farmers manage and prevent further spread of silverleaf nightshade in all four countries.

“We want to introduce an integrated weed management approach, which means we will not focus on herbicides, although we might use them if we have to, but instead we would rather test sustainable alternative management possibilities,” said Gualbert Gbèhounou, FAO Weed Officer.

FAO is recommending that farmers rotate regular crops with the fodder crop alfalfa, which covers the ground and competes with silverleaf nightshade.

“This prevents the weed from producing new seeds and also reduces amount of weed seed in the soil,” the agency noted.

It is also encouraging countries to review their regulatory environments and collaborate to reinforce control of silverleaf nightshade at the national and regional levels.

(Source: United Nations)

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