Salameh Shabib - Ministry Of Agriculture

Cactus is one of the economic crops in Palestine because of its dependence on rainwater. It does not need agricultural treatment such as fertilization, pruning, supplementary irrigation and pest control operations. Cactus is used to stop desertification and prevent soil erosion in areas where it is cultivated, and vegetation cover is not damaged. Moreover, farmers in many areas plant cactus for fencing their farms and marginal areas of agricultural lands. Hence, we find it mostly planted on edges, away from other agricultural crops. This type of cactus cultivation is considered "marginal cultivation” and is the most common in Palestine. As for the second type, it is "regular agriculture" with the aim of producing sustainable crops and trading in them. This type can be found in areas such as Jenin and other cities and villages in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.The extinction of the cactus threatens the ecological balance. It aims to preserve the ecosystem and its components and prevent disturbances in the processes of vital the ecosystem elements.

Recently, due to climate change and the movement of invasive insects from neighboring countries, cactus has become endangered due to the spread of cochineal insect, if it is not combated. This insect affects only cactus and is known by its dark red color, due to its secretion of the carmine scarlet liquid. Its original habitat is tropical and subtropical forests in America and Mexico.
This pest is currently present in 9 countries in the world: a few regions of the world, which are 9 countries, the United States, Mexico, Australia, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, as well as the Palestinian territories and Al-Aqsa Morocco since 2014, and recently Cyprus since 2016. It was, first, recorded in Palestine in 2020 in the Jenin area.

The pest female and nymphs cause the most damage, while the male does not. The female and the nymphs secrete white waxy threads that cover them and enable them to move from pad to pad. Upon injury, yellowish areas appear on the planks, which gradually enlarge and eventually lead to the fall of the affected pad, death of the stem, and 100% loss in severe damage.
These insects inflict significant losses on production, as they feed on the stability of the cactus, as they absorb its fluids, which leads to its dehydration and death in case of severe infection. However, eating the cactus plant does not pose any health harm to the consumer. Preventive methods are among the effective methods to avoid the spread of this insect and limit its damage by not transporting cactus pads and fruits to healthy areas, using plastic boxes instead of wooden ones to transport the fruits, after washing and sterilizing them, avoiding the entry and spread of this insect through means of transportation, taking the necessary measures to get rid of Infected plants and the adoption of recommended control methods.

The Ministry of Agriculture immediately, upon discovery of this insect, took the following measures:
• This pest was diagnosed by the Ministry of Agriculture staff through field inspection of infected sites.
• The cultivated areas of cactus were counted and the affected ones were identified.
• A meeting was held with the local authorities in the infected locations.
• Farmers were educated on the danger posed by the insect and field observations were made for them.
• A meeting with institutions operating in the agricultural sector was held, where the threat of the pest was reviewed, information was exchanged, and roles were clarified.
• A spraying campaign was carried out and the results circulated to farmers to continue the control process on their farms.
• Awareness brochures were produced and distributed among farmers.
• Kicking off of an awareness campaign through the Ministry of Agriculture's social media (General Directorate of Plant Protection and Agricultural Quarantine) and local media (visual and audio).

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