Georgia’s fight against the big tiny enemy – Asian Parosana
26 November, 2018
Georgia’s fight against the big tiny enemy – Asian Parosana
It’s a tiny creature, but the harm it did to the Georgian agriculture sector was and still is immense. The brown marmorated stink bug, or Asian Parosana as the Georgians call it, has become a major threat to agriculture, especially to the hazelnut production in Western Georgia. The bug that is native to China, Japan and the Korean peninsula, is believed to have invaded Georgia via Abkhazia in 2016. Although Asia Parosana has attacked corn and citrus fruits as well, it
caused the most damage to hazelnuts – Georgia’s most important export good in terms of food production.

The numbers of the National Food Agency (NFA) are harrowing: In 2015, overall income from hazelnut export was around 150 Mio. USD. First losses of around 55 Mio. USD happened in 2016. A year later, the income compared to 2015 has almost halved. The Government had to react quickly. And they did. “After consultations with experts from the U.S. and other countries with experience in this field, we launched a state program last year”, says Nikoloz Meskhi, head of the Plant Protection Department at the NFA.
Asian Parosana is a very robust pest and difficult to combat, photo courtesy: Manana Kereselidze

Enormous pesticides spraying campaign against stink bug

At first glance, the measure that the National Food Agency undertook was a simple one. Namely, the massive application of pesticides such as deltamethrin and bifenthrin. But the application of pesticides was actually a novelty for Western Georgia, where most of the country’s 60’000 hectares of hazelnut orchards are located. Before this campaign, farmers hadn’t ever used pesticides for their hazelnut production, - says Meskhi. In contrast to Eastern Georgia, where wine producers are experienced with the application of pesticides, this knowledge was completely lacking in the West.

Read more: 6 zones of Georgian winemaking and varieties according to regions – Facts all wine-lovers must know

Until today, there was simply no need to use pesticides. But with increasing cultivation areas as well as changing climatic conditions – more humidity and warmer weather – this has changed, says Meskhi. This is why the government invested a lot of money, not only in the application of pesticides, but also in training the farmers how to use them safely.
Nikoloz Meskhi gives safety instructions, photo courtesy: NFA

Meskhi stresses the fact that the losses in hazelnuts were by far not only caused by Asian Parosana. Other viruses, bacteria and especially fungal diseases had their share in this disaster as well. “Without pesticides, we simply cannot get high yields and high quality”, says Meskhi. This was corroborated by the Italian company Ferrero, which cultivates 4000 ha in Western Georgia. According to Meskhi, thanks to the application of pesticides, the company achieved its best yields ever this year – regardless of the pest pressure that continued to be high.

Long term use of pesticides poses a risk to the environment

Not everybody is at ease with the large scale application of pesticides. One of them is Elene Shatberashvili of the Biological Farming Association Elkana. The organization works with 500 organic hazelnut farmers in Western Georgia. “Under the given circumstances, the measures of the NFA were understandable, but it’s totally unacceptable that we should have massive pesticide treatment in Georgia for several years”.
The Georgian government invested in new sprayers, photo courtesy: NFA

Shatberashvili stresses the fact that the pesticides in question not only kill the stink bug, but other beneficial organisms too. Especially the pesticide bifenthrin that was used last year is quite toxic and poses a risk to the environment and to people, - says Shatberashvili.

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Many environmental protection organizations share those concerns. Nevertheless, the pesticides that were deployed in Georgia are widely used in many other countries as well, including the United States and in the European Union. That said, the European Commission banned the outdoor use of bifenthrin due to its high toxicity, especially to organisms in streams and lakes.

Better management is key for the hazelnut production

According to Elkana, an important reason for the huge yield losses in the hazelnut production is due to bad management. “Many farmers don’t take care of their orchards sufficiently”, - says Elene Shatberashvili. For instance, they don’t prune. But without pruning, there is less light in the orchards which increases the humidity and favors pests. Thus, a good phytosanitary situation in the orchards is absolutely key in the fight against stink bugs and other pests, says Shatberashvili.
People use also conventional traps to fight against the stink bug pest, photo courtesy: NFA

Elkana has made several assessments among the organic farmers and the results show: Farmers with a good management in the orchards achieved satisfying yields and high quality even this year.

Read more: Georgian desserts to taste in winter

Indeed, when confronted, Nikoloz Meshki of the NFA agrees that the sole chemical control of the pest isn’t decisive. “Our goal is to use fewer pesticides in future”. Furthermore, the state program focuses also on scientific research in biological control of Asian Parosana.

First promising results

The search for such natural alternative methods is conducted by the governmental Scientific Research Center of Agriculture. In Asia, the stink bug has a powerful enemy – a wasp – that controls the bug's population. However, this wasp isn’t native to Georgia. Generally, scientists fear to introduce foreign wasps in order to control the invasive stink bug because of the unknown side effects. Thus, an enemy that already lives in Georgia – a so called endemic species – must be found. “We revealed different natural enemies of the brown marmorated stink bug”, - explains entomologist and chief scientist Manana Kereselidze. Like in Asia, they are also wasps.
Scientists are looking for a natural enemy that could control the stink bug population, photo courtesy: Manana Kereselidze

First results of Kereselidze indicate that this wasp has adapted to the foreign stink bug and parasitized the egg mass of Asian Parosana. “Now, we need to study in the laboratory how effective this wasp will be”, - says the entomologist. In case of positive results, the next step would be field tests in Western Georgia. There, in the hotspot of Asian Parosana, the Scientific Research Center of Agriculture opens new research facilities with high level equipment. The new laboratory will open in spring.
Renewed laboratory facilities in Anaseuli (Guria), photo courtesy: Manana Kereselidze

Scientific research needs time and a lot of funding. For the hazelnut farmers a solution couldn’t come early enough. And what about the funds? According to the National Food Agency, since 2017 the USA have invested 6 Mio USD in the fight against the stink bug pest and further 60 Mio GEL have been committed by the Georgian authorities. Of this sum only one million GEL was invested in scientific research. If the Georgian government really wants to bring forward biological control of Asian Parosana, much bigger funds are needed for research.

Author: Martina Polek

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