Beetles from Israel Set Out to Protect Cacti in Ethiopia

January 18, 2018 12:57
2 minute read.
KKL-JNF's Omer Golan (right), with Mekelle University's Dr. Kiros Meles (left) and colleague, with b

KKL-JNF's Omer Golan (right), with Mekelle University's Dr. Kiros Meles (left) and colleague, with beetles from Israel and infected cacti samples. (photo credit: OMER GOLAN/KKL-JNF)

Experts from KKL-JNF’s Afforestation Division have enlisted in a battle to save prickly pear cacti in Ethiopia from a serious aphid attack.

KKL-JNF has experience of combating aphids on prickly pear plants, as a similar outbreak has taken place in Israel in recent years. The Israeli aphids are generally supposed to have arrived from Lebanon.

The cochineal aphid (Dactylopius coccus) was introduced into northern Ethiopia over a decade ago as a source of natural red dye. The breeding plan was abandoned, but the cactus-eating insect spread and began to sow destruction among the country’s prickly pears. By feeding on the juices of the cacti, the aphids caused them irreparable damage, and so deprived camels and other domestic livestock in Ethiopia’s Tigré region of an important source of grazing.

Northern Ethiopia suffered severe famine until about twenty years ago, and many thousands of people starved to death. Today the prickly pear cactus is an important component of nutritional security in the region, and during periods of drought this cactus functions as the “bottom of the barrel” for both human beings and livestock. At such times, people eat the prickly pear fruit, while the animals feed off the flesh of the plant. As the cactus regenerates, it can continue to provide food in times of severe shortage.

Because combating the aphid is so vital to nutritional security in the region, KKL-JNF Chief Forester David Brand has invested a great deal of effort in promoting cooperation designed to bring KKL-JNF’s professional help to Ethiopia.

KKL-JNF already has experience of the battle against aphids of this kind, which have spread in Israel, too, in recent years, after arriving, it is assumed, from Lebanon. Unfortunately, the variety found in Israel is much more aggressive than its Ethiopian relative and it has caused enormous damage to prickly pear cacti in the north of the country.

Director of the KKL-JNF Afforestation Division’s Forest Health and Protection Department Omer Golan was summoned to Ethiopia to help combat the aphid. He did not arrive there empty-handed, but came equipped with 600 wild Cryptolaemus montrouzieri beetles, relatives of the well-loved and familiar ladybird that are sometimes referred to in English as “mealybug destroyers.” As their name suggests, they are a commercial biological pest-control product. These particular beetles were collected in the Acco and Western Galilee region before being summarily dispatched on their mission to Ethiopia.

Activities in Ethiopia are being coordinated by Dr. Kiros Meles of Mekelle University.

“I’m proud that we can place our expertise at the disposal of other countries,” said Omer Golan. “We’re not just helping to breed a natural enemy of pests – we’re also opening a new channel of cooperation. And, of course, I regard all collaborations of this kind as a wonderful opportunity to learn from the knowledge of others.”

Read more, see photos of cactus pest-combatting efforts in Ethiopia

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