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Gift from Ethiopian university helps combat crop-destroying weed

March 14, 2016

Two beetles on a parthenium weed leaf
Two beetles munch on parthenium weed at Haramaya University in Ethiopia.

As Ethiopia faces drought and famine, the invasive weed parthenium further complicates the country's precarious food situation. A university president in Ethiopia recently gave a Virginia Tech led team a gift to help in the country's fight against the damaging weed. 

Chemeda Fininsa, president of Haramaya Agricultural University, presented 100,000 Birr, roughly $5,000, in support of the parthenium project. The exchange occurred when the team from Virginia Tech's Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab visited the university while leading a workshop on parthenium for Ethiopian farmers, scientists, and policymakers.

 Haramaya Agricultural University is the site of one of the project's facilities where bioagents – agents employed in the practice of natural pest control – are reared. The university has been a partner with Virginia Tech since 2005.

Parthenium is native to the Americas but found its way to East Africa in the 1970s. Farmers call it "faramsissa," meaning "sign your land away," in the local Oromiya language. The weed destroys native crops, causes rashes in people, and, when consumed by animals, taints meat and dairy products.

The Virginia Tech led lab's parthenium project increases the amount of two previously approved biocontrol agents slated for release into fields. These biocontrol agents are the leaf-feeding beetle, called the parthenium beetle or Mexican beetle, and a stem-boring weevil. The team is also evaluating a new beetle involved in parthenium control.

"This grant not only enhances field establishment of these bioagents against parthenium, but it also strengthens collaboration in our efforts to suppress this weed and represents a vote of confidence in the work we're doing," said Muni Muniappan, director of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The project on the invasive weed is one of eight similar projects in seven countries focusing on developing integrated pest management solutions to agricultural problems.

The Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab is a project of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Written by Stephanie Parker

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