An invasive alien weed, silverleaf nightshade, is theatening cotton and wheat crops in Syria and Iraq and could spread to Lebanon and Jordan, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
More than 60 per cent of farmland in Syria, growing mainly cotton and wheat, has been infested with silverleaf nightshade. The weed, originally from the American tropics, sucks nutrients from the soil and starves crops of water, the FAO said.
Olive groves have been affected by the weed, and a similar mass infestation has been reported in northwest Iraq. The invasive plant has also been spotted at sites in Lebanon and Jordan, where it will spread if nothing is done, it said.
“This particular type of weed competes aggressively with crops for nutrients whilst its deep root system dries down soil moisture,” said Gualbert Gbehounou, FAO weed officer.
The weed, a relative of the tomato, probably accidentally arrived in the Middle East via containers or bags of farm commodities, the FAO said.
The Rome-based agency said it has been working on a project to help farmers in the four countries manage and prevent further spread of the weed.
The FAO recommended farmers rotate regular crops with alfalfa, which covers the ground and competes with silverleaf nightshade to prevent the weed from producing new seeds. The FAO is asking the countries to review their regulatory environments and work together to reinforce control of the weed at national and regional levels.