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Savoirs locaux et agriculture durable au Yémen

 | 
Frédéric Pelat
, 
Amin Al-Hakimi

PLANT PROTECTION

Some ancient practices used for agricultural pest control in Yemen

Saeed A. Ba‑Angood

Texte intégral

  • 1 General Department of Plant Protection. and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit, 1 (...)
  • 2 Ingrams, H., 1942, Arabia and the Isles, London.
  • 3 Hacker, H., 1999, History of collecting insects in Yemen. Insect Fauna of Yemen, Part 1. Esperiana (...)
  • 4 Niebuhr, M., 1792, Travels through Arabia and other countries in the East, Edinburgh; Hansen, T., (...)

1Agriculture in Yemen dates back at least 5000 years.1 As far as insects are concerned, some references to beekeeping date back to about 1000 BC.2 The history of insect collection in Yemen started in the 18th century, with the Danish expedition of Frederick V.3 Although this expedition ended tragically with most members dying of disease, its results were later published.4

2As we follow the history of agriculture in Yemen we find that farmers developed a great store of knowledge, elaborated through generations and centuries. Yemeni farmers adopted different agricultural practices and techniques, including constructing canals, dams and weirs, and developing different ways to harvest water. The archaeological vestiges of large-scale hydraulic works and of terraces built on steep slopes of mountains stand witness to the ability of Yemeni farmers in ancient times to manage available natural resources and to preserve those resources for centuries.

3This paper presents some practices that our forefathers employed for agricultural pest control. These same practices are also useful in recently developed approaches to agriculture, and have a rightful place alongside more recent concepts of pest management.

Methods used in data collection

4For data collection and analysis, we used the methods described in Sallam and Ba-Angood’s paper on insect diversity in this volume. In addition, questionnaires about indigenous approaches to pest control were distributed in Tihāma, Tacizz, Ibb, and the southern governorates. The Tihāma questionnaire emphasized date palm pests and termites, that for Tacizz, Ibb and Yāfic coffee pests, and that for Wādī Hadramawt wheat and the date palm pests. All the questionnaires also addressed the techniques and problems of food storage. In addition, we asked various colleagues for information about the practices of their own forbearers. Mr. Fucād Bā-Hakīm, an FAO expert in the EMPRES Project, was one of these.

Results and discussion

Selecting the suitable variety and the appropriate sowing date

5The responses to the questionnaires showed that our forefathers followed the motto “prevention is better than cure,” and most traditional pest control measures are preventative rather than remedial. Farmers always follow local agricultural calendars and almanacs based on astronomy. Most farmers start sowing a given crop according to the appearance of a certain najm (star), the period of each star lasting 13-14 days. If farmers delay sowing past the appropriate period, then the crop will not grow well and may be prone to pests and diseases. Each season is associated with specific crop varietals, to be sown only in this season and under certain stars.

6Yemeni proverbs remind farmers of the dangers of not following the calendars. For example, in the central highlands and in Dhamār a proverb advises that “if you catch the season one night early you will have an additional kayla (unit of yield), but if you sow late in the season by one night, you will have a reduction of one kayla.” A proverb of the Subr area recommends “don’t mourn your mother if she dies, but mourn one day of Nīsān (April) if you miss it”—to sow sorghum in Nīsān (April), thereby ensuring the best yield, is a matter in one’s own hands whereas the death of one’s mother rests with God. In these areas 8-21 April is the most suitable time to sow white sorghum. Around Ibb the proper sowing season is also a matter for proverbs: “Ādhār (March) sowing is for red cultivars of sorghum, Nīsān (April) is for those who want to enjoy looking at a good crop, but Ayyār (May) sowing is just for cows [i.e. gives a poor crop suitable only as fodder].”

  • 5 Al-cAnsī, Y., 1998, Agricultural Landmarks in Yemen, Sanca’ (Arabic).
  • 6 al-Iryani, M., 1988, A new inscription from Ma’rib. Al-Iklil 6(3-4):271-272 (Arabic).

7Al-cAnsī compared with respect to the appropriate sowing dates for cereals, particularly sorghum, a Rasulid agricultural almanac of 1404AD/808AH and the almanac that the astronomer Muhammad bin Haydarah prepared in 1947AD/1367AH.5 In al-Hadā, sorghum grown in macalam al-thawr where it is sown zajdah (in few grains). In Hadramawt the summer sowing season started in al-najm al-zabrah (7 March), the winter sowing season with al-najm al-baldah (15 July). Wheat was usually grown in najm al-hūt which starts on 14 October. The sowing and harvest dates in Wādī Hadramawt are all associated with nujūm calendars. The farmer always selects the suitable cultivar for the proper sowing date in the relevant region, resulting in such terms as simsim sayfī (summer sesame), dhura sayfī (summer sorghum), and so on. Indeed, most crops in Yemen are named for their harvest season. For example al-qayaz, mentioned in an inscription discovered recently at Ma’rib,6 is the name of a cereal sown in winter and harvested in summer; it is also the name of a Himyarite month, equivalent to June. Those crops sown after winter rains are called rabīcah, spring; they are called after their harvest time.

8In early times Yemeni farmers selected good seeds, by inspecting the crop and choosing the best spikes and ears, and tagging them. The selected spikes have different names in different regions; in cAnis, they are called mahājīn and are tagged by shaqacah, good spikes being called hājrah.

9Even today some cultivars of cereal and vegetable crops are named for famous farmers who developed that strain by selection year after year. For example some wheat and onion cultivars carry the name of bāftaym after a famous farmer who developed cultivar strains in Wādī Hadramawt. Other cultivars might be named for a region or an area.

10Land preparations and methods of sowing varied in different areas of Yemen, and also varied according to crop within a given area. In Tihāma farmers use what they call a takbīsh while sowing dukhn (millet). In Abyan and Lahj governorates cotton, cereals and even some vegetables are grown with only a single irrigation episode (diverted spate water), while in other areas cotton and similar crops are given several waterings. Traditional methods of land preparation and of irrigation must be studied and incorporated into plans for rational water use and for sustainable agriculture. The traditional methods that Yemeni farmers used for determining the appropriate time of sowing and techniques of land preparation are today collectively called “agricultural methods,” which are considered to be very important components of control in Insect Pest Management (IPM) systems.

Other cultural methods

  • 7 Serjeant, R.B., 1974, The cultivation of cereals in mediaeval Yemen (a translation of Bughyat al F (...)

11In ancient agriculture, Yemenis were aware of the importance of pruning, particularly of fruit trees. The Bughyat al-Fallāhīn7 lists the star calendar dates appropriate for pruning most crops, particularly grapes, and also mentions the way that farmers pruned grape vines and date palm trees, in part as protection of their trees from pests and diseases, in different parts of Yemen.

12In answering the questionnaire, old farmers mentioned that they also burn harvest debris and leftovers to eliminate diseases and pests hidden in these materials. Cumin was burnt to deter mosquitoes in houses. Some Yemeni farmers burn the wheat and barley chaff, others dung and manure, to keep pests away (some farmers adding that this measure would also kill the flying insect pests attracted to the fire). Two types of ants were controlled by putting ash, salt and water on their nests, forcing them to leave. For the control of bed bugs old farmers mentioned that they soak peas for three days, then add lime and coat the walls of the house with this mixture. They believe that bugs will not live in these houses afterwards.

13In the al-sittīn or al-sabacīn season in the cAwādhil area, a northeast wind usually prevails at sowing time until mid-afternoon; farmers usually stop sowing if a southwest wind then rises in the belief that smut will infect plants grown from seeds sown while this wind prevails.

  • 8 Niebuhr, op. cit., 1792; Serjeant op. cit., 1974.

14Early reports8 and answers to the questionnaire both mention that farmers interplanted crops, e.g. cowpeas or a leguminous crop planted between rows of sorghum. This practice improves soil quality, increases soil fertility, and decreases population of insect pests.

  • 9 Serjeant, op. cit., 1974.

15One of the interesting answers to the questionnaire concerned zakāt-giving, the religious taxes paid for poor people from each harvested crop. The farmers said that the most efficacious protection of crops is paying a zakah once the crop is harvested. This action will protect the yield from pests and diseases in shā’ Allah, as they said. This opinion also appears in Bughyat al Fallāhīn.9

Mechanical methods of pest control

16In traditional agriculture, farmers also used various mechanical methods of pest control. All members of the farmer’s family used to collect and destroy pests by hands. When locusts attacked the crop, farmers used to collect the locusts and eat them fried. Farmers also try to make loud noises, using drums and singing group songs, saying “oh locusts go away from our fields.” Similarly, farmers used to collect and eat alated adult termites swarming at night and gathering around an attracting light. Farmers used different structures (khiyāl al-maatah) installed in fields to frighten birds, and erected structures such as qasabat al-jarād (a piece of cloth with metal sheets attached to a stick so as to swing in the wind and make noise) to ward off locusts. They also guarded their crops at harvest time. The guards make loud noises, or used instruments to hurl stones at birds or to make frightening loud noises.

The use of biocontrol agents for pest control

  • 10 Ba-Angood, S. A., 1990, A preliminary survey of natural enemies for agricultural pests in Democrat (...)
  • 11 Ba-Angood, op. cit., 1990; DeBach, op cit., 1974; Serjeant, op. cit., 1974; Varisco, D.M., 1992, I (...)
  • 12 Ba-Angood, op. cit., 1990; al-Ghashm, M.Y., 1994, Integrated Pest Management–Future Strategy, Yeme (...)
  • 13 Ba-Angood, op. cit., 1990.

17The Chinese and Yemenis were among the first to use biological methods to control agricultural pests.10 Traditional farmers in Tihāma, Tacizz and Hadramawt used to collect predatory ants (qacs) from mountains to control date palm pests that attack the fruit. This method was described in the 13th century agricultural text of al-Malik al-Ashraf cUmar of Rasulid Yemen.11 When we asked old farmers about this practice they confirmed it. These farmers also said that they used sticks on which the ants travel from one tree to another. Some farmers in Dubac and Wādī Hadramawt still follow this practice.12 Three species of predatory ants—Crematogaster affabilis, C. flaveventris and Monomorium bicolor—were used to control infestation of the lesser date moth (Batrachedra amydraula), and predatory ants are also used in Tihāma to control termites.13

The use of oils in pest control

  • 14 Varisco, op. cit., 1992.
  • 15 Ba-Angood, op. cit., 1990

18When answering the questionnaire, farmers in Wādī Hadramawt mentioned that they traditionally used oil for the control of pests and diseases on date palm fruits. Some old farmers said that sesame oil was applied to the flowering branches at the time of pollination in order to protect the pollinated flowers from diseases. This practice also figures in medieval texts.14 Other farmers said that they rubbed the spates of date palms with shajarat al-zayt, the oil of the castor plant (Ricinus communis). Farmers also used this oil to kill the eggs and larvae of the lesser date moth (B. amydraula) and prevent the moth from depositing its eggs on the fruit.15 Vegetable oils were also used in traditional agriculture to coat legumes and bean seeds as a protection from storage pests.

The use of repellant plants

  • 16 al-cAnsī, op. cit., 1998.

19When answering the questionnaire, old farmers in the Yāfic area mentioned that they never use pesticides for the control of coffee pests. Instead, they protected the coffee crop from the coffee bean borer al-khāriz (Prophantis samaragdina) and the leaf miner (Leucoptera coffeella) with repellant plants of the genera Ficus and Tagetes. Some of these plants have local names but we could not identify their Latin names. In Wādī al-Sirr in Hamdān and also in Sacdah, farmers used onion bulbs buried in the soil near grape vines for the control of termites.16

Protection from storage pests and diseases

  • 17 Sejeant, op. cit., 1974; al-cAnsī, op. cit., 1998.
  • 18 al-cAnsi, op. cit., 1998.
  • 19 Sejeant, op. cit., 1974; al-cAnsi, op. cit., 1998.
  • 20 Sejeant, op. cit., 1974.

20Our forefathers used several methods to protect their grains and other products in storage. In answers to the questionnaire, in project reports, and also in medieval texts,17 we find that Yemeni farmers traditionally used oil, ash and sand to control pests and diseases. In the al-Hadā and Bani Matar areas, good grain is selected and stored mixed with plants called nacadh to protect the grain against smuts.18 Farmers in the Banī Fadl and Ibb areas used to mix ash with sorghum or wheat and store the mixture in small tanks closed with mud.19 In Hadramawt old farmers said that they still follow the traditional methods of keeping dates in clay containers locally called qihalah and azyār, which are closed with soft dates and a layer of ash. Grains and legumes are often stored in underground granaries called madāfin. In the Yāfic and Mukayrās areas, farmers also used barrels closed with layers of ash as storage containers. On Suqutrā people used hides for storing dates and other food products. Some farmers used muraymarah (Azadirachta indica) leaves to protect stored grains from pests. When we asked old farmers whether they prefer to store grain as spikes or as threshed seed, they said that they follow the recommendation of the prophet Yūsuf al-Sadīq when he advised the king of Egypt to keep harvested cereals in their spikes. Al-Malik Al-Afdal made the same recommendation in mediaeval Yemen.20 Old farmers mentioned that their grandfathers used special types of wild onion, probably basal al-cansal, to control rodents.

  • 21 al-cAnsi, op. cit., 1998.

21Farmers in Dhamār and Wādī Hadramawt soaked sorghum seeds in water and salt for one night before sowing. Old farmers commented on this practice by saying that “if they don’t change the water, seeds will sprout and will not grow well.” This routine was used to protect the seeds from seedling pests call al-qārid in Dhamār, and al-duwaynah in Wādī Hadramawt. In Khawlān the sorghum seeds should be soaked and then dried before sowing; seeds treated in this fashion are called mawnish, while unsoaked seeds are hatīm.21 Farmers expect hatīm to produce small ears and to be subject to smut. Old farmers describe a traditional test for the quality of seed. The farmer first poured hot water over a sample of seed in a mesh bag, and then after letting the sample cool poured ordinary water over it, and let the sample dry. If seeds treated in this way and then sown in a small plot germinate well, then the rest of the seed will produce a crop with good yield.

Major pests and diseases mentioned in traditional agriculture

  • 22 E.g. Serjeant, op. cit., 1974; Niebuhr, op. cit., 1792; al-cAnsi, op. cit., 1998.

22The following insects are those mentioned in medieval and more recent sources.22

  • Locusts are frequently cited in traditional agriculture for their sometimes devastating attacks on cereal crops. There are some proverbs about the locust and its damage. Al-hakīm [experienced and wise man] cAli bin Zayd said “cindī taqūm al-qiyāmah wa lā hanīn al majārid,” which means that he prefers the world’s end to the sound of locusts. Many poems cited in mediaeval agricultural texts describe locusts in details and the harm they do to crops. However more than one source says that Yemeni farmers prefer the attack of locusts to frost.23 A proverb in the Jahrān area says “yāllah bi-garadah qabla mā yarkaz al-cūd”—farmers want the locusts to come but only when the seeds are just starting to sprout and the stems have not yet stood up, for at that point a locust attack stimulates growth. Some modern experiments show that when locusts attack a sorghum crop at an early stage, the attack may stimulate the crop to produce more leaves.
  • Al-farārah is a long worm that attacks date palm. It might be al-duwaybah as one of the old farmers said, which is a beetle that attacks dates after harvest.
  • Al-hamār is an insect that attacks wheat and alfalfa.
  • Al-hallah is a small green insect that attacks alfalfa and sorghum. The common name for this group is aphids.
  • Al-hawāt is a small worm that attacks the stem of cereals. It is probably a stem borer.
  • Al-judhmī is a small worm that attacks sorghum from below, probably a cutworm or an armyworm.
  • Al-shāhidh is a small insect with the size of a bed bug. It attacks barley. It is said that al-shāhidh appears after lightening and disappeared after another episode. This insect is probably an aphid.
  • Al-salalah /al-aradhī is a kind of termite.

Insect pest management in traditional Yemeni agriculture

23From the above, it appears that traditional agriculture encompassed a body of knowledge and experience that needs to be tested to see what is still applicable in these changing times.

  • 24 E.g. Forskål, P., 1775, Descriptiones animalium, avium, amphibiorum, piscium, insectorum, vermium (...)

24According to the questionnaire responses, interviews with old farmers and with experts, the literature written by foreign visitors,24 and the older literature of Yemen itself (poems, proverbs, medieval texts), Yemeni farmers traditionally possessed several methods of control suitable to different locations and crops. These different biological, mechanical, cultural methods were both protective and preventive. These methods are known recently as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

25Traditional agriculture in Yemen was largely oriented toward sustainable production, with a combination of practices that reduced or eliminated pest infestation and diseases. While many of these practices do continue, this knowledge is rapidly disappearing. It is very important to make use of this traditional and indigenous knowledge to develop our IPM programs for the main agricultural pests that still beset agriculture in Yemen.

Recommendations

  • We must make use of the accumulated experience of Yemeni farmers concerning the use of plants and their extracts for the control of agricultural pests. We have to identify these methods and test their efficacy.
  • We must inventory the indigenous natural enemies of agricultural pests, and test our forefathers’ application of these natural enemies to pest control.
  • We must carry out applied research to verify traditional knowledge about other pest control practices.
  • We must verify sowing dates for different crops according to agricultural calendars based on star (al-nujūm) calculations.
  • We must develop IPM programs for the principal agricultural pests by making use of traditional and indigenous knowledge of Yemeni farmers.

Notes

1 General Department of Plant Protection. and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit, 1993, The Yemeni German Plant Protection Project, Sana’a.

2 Ingrams, H., 1942, Arabia and the Isles, London.

3 Hacker, H., 1999, History of collecting insects in Yemen. Insect Fauna of Yemen, Part 1. Esperiana Buchreihe zur Entomologie 7:10-14.

4 Niebuhr, M., 1792, Travels through Arabia and other countries in the East, Edinburgh; Hansen, T., 1993, From Copenhagen to Yemen, Yemeni Center for Research and Studies, Beirut (Arabic).

5 Al-cAnsī, Y., 1998, Agricultural Landmarks in Yemen, Sanca’ (Arabic).

6 al-Iryani, M., 1988, A new inscription from Ma’rib. Al-Iklil 6(3-4):271-272 (Arabic).

7 Serjeant, R.B., 1974, The cultivation of cereals in mediaeval Yemen (a translation of Bughyat al Fallāhīn of the Rasulid Sultan al-Malik al-Afdal al-cAbbās b. cAlī, composed circa 1370 A.D.), Arabian Studies 1:25-74.

8 Niebuhr, op. cit., 1792; Serjeant op. cit., 1974.

9 Serjeant, op. cit., 1974.

10 Ba-Angood, S. A., 1990, A preliminary survey of natural enemies for agricultural pests in Democratic Yemen. Al-Yaman 2:22-37 (Arabic); Botta, P.E.. 1941, Relations d’un voyage dans l’ Yemen. Paris; de Bach, P., 1974, Biological Control of Pests and Weeds, Cambridge; Doutt, R.L., 1964, The historical development of biological control, in Biological Control of Insect Pests and Weeds, P .de Bach ed., Cambridge, pp. 21-44.

11 Ba-Angood, op. cit., 1990; DeBach, op cit., 1974; Serjeant, op. cit., 1974; Varisco, D.M., 1992, Indigenous plant protection in Yemen, Final Report, Yemeni German Plant Protection Project, Sana’a.

12 Ba-Angood, op. cit., 1990; al-Ghashm, M.Y., 1994, Integrated Pest Management–Future Strategy, Yemeni- German Plant Protection Project, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. (Arabic)

13 Ba-Angood, op. cit., 1990.

14 Varisco, op. cit., 1992.

15 Ba-Angood, op. cit., 1990

16 al-cAnsī, op. cit., 1998.

17 Sejeant, op. cit., 1974; al-cAnsī, op. cit., 1998.

18 al-cAnsi, op. cit., 1998.

19 Sejeant, op. cit., 1974; al-cAnsi, op. cit., 1998.

20 Sejeant, op. cit., 1974.

21 al-cAnsi, op. cit., 1998.

22 E.g. Serjeant, op. cit., 1974; Niebuhr, op. cit., 1792; al-cAnsi, op. cit., 1998.

23 al-cAnsī, op. cit., 1998.

24 E.g. Forskål, P., 1775, Descriptiones animalium, avium, amphibiorum, piscium, insectorum, vermium quae in itinere orientali observavit Petrus Forskal–Post mortem autoris edidit Carsten Niebuhr, Hauniae; Ingrams, op. cit., 1942, Niebuhr, op. cit., 1792; Varisco, op. cit., 1992.

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