Mohammed Al-Ghashm: “Absence of legislation allowed dangerous plant diseases and lethal pesticides to enter the country unchecked.” [Archives:1998/02/Interview]

January 12 1998

Yemeni farmers have been faced with increasingly new and problematic situations. One reason for this is the introduction of new diseases, often imported through either individuals or businessmen. One of the key persons to help Yemeni farmers address this challenge is Dr. Mohammed Yahya Al-Ghashm, Head of the General Directorate of Plant Protection at the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. With an M.Sc. in the prevalent plant diseases and a Ph.D. in biological sciences, Al-Ghashm, 50, wrote extensively on plant diseases and how to combat them, the use of pesticides, and other important issues of agricultural concern. He is also a member of the General Authority of Agricultural Research and Guidance.  Despite lack of publicity, the importance of Dr. Al-Ghashm’s work cannot be overemphasized. With its ever growing population, Yemen will increasingly need to produce more food for its people. Producing good-quality, diseases and pesticide-free vegetables, fruits, and cereals is the responsibility of people like Dr. Al-Ghashm.  Dr. Al-Ghashm talked to Dr. Salah Haddash, who filed the following interview. Excerpts:
Q: What are the tasks of the General Directorate of Plant Protection ? A: The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation is entrusted with the major task of protecting crops from diseases. For this purpose, the General Directorate of Plant Protection (GDPP) was established.  The GDPP is assigned the task of drawing the necessary plans and suggesting the relevant legislations needed to organize the process of plant protection against diseases. It also has to follow-up and monitor the implementations of such rules and regulations. The ultimate goal is, of course, to increase crop yield, improve its quality, and protect the environment from pesticide-caused pollution.  
Q: What are the activities of the GDPP? A: On the national level, there are 340 people involved in various activities related to plant protection. Of those people, 118 work in the GDPP’s various departments and laboratories. We have three Ph.D., six M.Sc., and 31 B.Sc. holders, 33 technicians, and the rest work in the workshop, the farm, and the administration.  The GDPP consists of five departments: pesticides, plant quarantine, integrated disease combating, plant protection services, and the Center to Monitor and Combat Locusts. The GDPP often conducts national campaigns.
Q: What are the GDPP achievements and future plans? A: Through financial support provided by the GTZ of Germany, and the Japanese, the Dutch and the Yemeni governments, the GDPP has been able to establish the following: – two laboratories to diagnose plant pests and diseases; – a laboratory to breed biopredators; – a laboratory to analyze and control the quality of pesticides; – a laboratory to detect plant viruses; – a workshop to produce audio-visuals; – a library; – a maintenance workshop; and  – a training center for agricultural guides.
Other GDPP achievements include the following: * a list of 623 pesticides, diseases, and harmful weeds; * a list of 90 natural bio-predators; * a list of 43 licensed pesticides; * a list of 120 prohibited bio-predators; * 23 studies and researches on plant protection; * producing 10,152 explanatory posters, leaflets, and slides; * short and long-term training courses for 40 staff members; * training and instructing up to 1,770 agricultural guides, farmers, and pesticide retailers; * a number of successful national campaigns to combat cotton diseases, desert locusts, black aphids, mildew, and other diseases; * preparing the plant quarantine and use-of-pesticides projects; * integrated disease combating and environmental protection through breeding the natural predator of the black aphid, the pauesia antennata; * disposing of 262 tons of expired pesticides, which have accumulated over the last five decades, by transporting them to be incinerated in the UK with the aid of the Dutch government; * signing the international convention on plant protection; * signing the international agreement on pesticides; and * signing the agreement on the transport and handling of dangerous material.
The GDPP future plans include the following: – implementing the project of integrated plant disease combating, with aid from the Dutch government; – establishing a laboratory to determine the effects of the residual pesticides left in various agricultural crops; – establishing plant quarantine centers at the country’s air and seaports and land gateways; – issuing and implementing laws to regulate plant quarantine and the handling of pesticides; and  – establishing special systems to monitor and predict the onset of plant diseases.
Q: What are the major sources of GDPP funding? A: The Ministry of Agriculture receives a lot of aid from the GTZ, which has been with us for more than two decades. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), through its Technical Cooperation Program (TCP), has supported many small, short-term projects in the field of plant quarantines and locusts fighting.  The Japanese government has provided a lot of equipment, tools, protective clothing, etc, to help with the process of combating plant diseases. The Dutch government also helped combat black aphids in Yemen, so did the ODA of Britain and the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development in combating desert locusts. The Islamic Bank had also provided some means to combat locusts during one stage of the process.  
Q: What sort of problems do you face? A: The climatic diversity in Yemen has made it possible for different kinds of plant diseases and pests to thrive all year round. This, of course, makes our job more demanding.  The absence of relevant legislation to regulate plant and pesticide imports has allowed several dangerous plant diseases and expired or lethal pesticides to enter the country unchecked.  Due to limited funds for plant protection schemes, the use of modern plant protection methods somewhat beyond reach. Also, the agricultural administrative structures in their present state make it difficult to follow a comprehensive, long-term strategy for plant protection.  To add insult to injury, the absence of a proper system of health care and insurance makes people work even in hazardous jobs such as dealing with pesticides. This is our fate for the foreseeable future.
Q: To what extent do Yemeni farmers cooperate with your programs? A: Farmers play a big role in the success of any plant protection scheme. There is no doubt about that. They all fully recognize the danger and the big potential losses if the plant diseases are not combated. They also know the only way out is through the proper administering of pesticides within well-coordinated, scientifically based plant protection programs.
Q: How do you draw your plans for large-scale plant protection programs? A: Plant protection programs are drawn according to priorities. The extent of the potential danger of a particular plant disease is taken as a fundamental criterion in implementing our programs.  We aim to constantly develop plant protection measures and methods in accordance with world progress in this field.  Other factors include addressing the requirements of national development, environmental considerations, and living up to the relevant regional/international agreements and conventions.