Almond witches’-broom phytoplasma management in Lebanon

Place: lebanon, Asia
Quantitative & qualitative enhancement of crop products Quantitative & qualitative enhancement of crop products
Total Budget: € 706.535,00 | Period: From October 2009 To February 2014


The spread of Almond witches’ broom (AlmWB) in Lebanon resulted in the death of over 200,000 trees since 2000. It is caused by ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma phoenicium’.In 2009, an innovative project was initiated to support farmers. It aimed to map the extent of the disease spread;enhance the local capacities to diagnose the pathogen; study the disease epidemiology, and contain the disease through tested management options .
Beneficiaries:Ministry of Agriculture:90 engineers and technicians,AVSI Foundation, Lebanese and Italian Universities, Research Institute, 49 nurserymen, more than 600 farmers.
Outcomes:1.Increasing awareness of the farming community and means of its spread, 2.Providing farmers disease management options based on: identification and removal of infected trees in foci of infection, identification of sources of disease inoculum, testing practices that can reduce losses caused by the disease, and making sure that seedlings produced by nurseries are certified as “healthy”.


Ministry of Agriculture - Lebanon

Lead applicant

The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is the institution responsible for setting the agriculture strategic framework, formulating and implementing policies/programs for the development of the sector in Lebanon. MOA is responsible for developing a suitable legal and regulatory framework, and enhancing infrastructure development to promote investment and improve agricultural production and marketing. MOA also plays an important role in the management of natural resources of the country (agricultural land, irrigation water, forests, fisheries, pasturelands) and contributes to rural development programs.

Lebanese Agricultural Research lnstitute - Lebanon

Initiative partner

LARI is a governmental organization under Minister of Agriculture Supervision. The institute conducts applied and basic scientific research for the development and advancement of the agricultural sector in Lebanon. In addition, the Institute keeps close ties to the farmers and tries to develop research activities aiming at solving their problems. The LARI has at its disposal eight experimental stations (Tel Amara, Tourbol, Kfardan, Kfarchakhna, Abdeh, Sour, Fanar, Lebaa) in an area of 280 hectares of agricultural land. The stations are located in agricultural areas where subtropical and temperate corps are produced. In These stations research projects are conducted to solve problems facing the agricultural sector in this area. Currently new qualified scientists are being recruited at these agricultural stations after several years of national conflict. The Lebanese Agricultural Research lnstitute is eager to recruit new qualified personnel and attract more financial support in order to face future challenge. International agencies such as FAO. UNDP and ICARDA who sponsored the institute Eviction in the past an CxteCtea tO COntaInS thor sponsored for the local and regional development, and progress.

AVSI Foundation - Lebanon

Initiative partner

AVSI Foundation is non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in Italy in 1972. Its mission is to support human development in developing countries according to the social teaching of the Catholic Church. AVSI is involved in more than 100 cooperation projects in 37 developing countries throughout Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia. AVSI’s main activity areas are education and social development, urban upgrading, healthcare, labor, agriculture, food security and water, energy and environment, humanitarian emergency, migrants and refugees, reaching more than 4,000,000 direct beneficiaries. AVSI works with 700 local partners all around the world (NGOs, public institutions, local authorities, CBOs, FBOs, informal groups, companies, etc.). AVSI is present in Lebanon since 1996, it is working in social domain (supporting 1,400 vulnerable families), as well as in the rural development in different regions, in education and training for farmers, IPM and rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructures.

Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (DAES) -­‐ Production, Landscape, Agroenergy -­‐ University of Milan - Italy

Initiative partner

The Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences - Production, Land, Agrienergy develops its activities with a view to advancement through scientific research, knowledge about farming systems, forestry, livestock, environmental and energy based on a multidisciplinary approach aimed at promotion of effective and efficient management of complex agricultural systems. The integration of the main fields of agricultural science is essential in order to improve many aspects of agricultural production, food and non-compliance with the conservation of natural resources and minimizing the environmental impact thanks to the recycling of waste. The studies on crop production and animal cover areas of research involving issues ranging from the molecular level to those of the body and systemic, in close correlation with environmental issues. Technological approaches include the use of traditional methods (biological, chemical, physical, computing and engineering) integrated with innovative approaches "-omics" and systemic-to allow for the development of management models and predictive. Accordingly, the mission of teaching DISAA is oriented to the training of qualified professionals to successfully enter the world of work and research. This large and complex training program is organized through educational activities that include courses in Bachelor, Master, postgraduate (Masters) and PhD. This training offer includes issues related to agricultural productivity (food and otherwise) with particular reference to innovative approaches that include, among others, the use of biotechnological tools and renewable energy in a general context of respect for environmental sustainability and the preservation of 'environment. The research focuses on different crops (cereals, plants, trees, small fruits, vegetables, flowers, medicinal and aromatic) and their use for human food, animal feed and for the production of raw materials and biomass for non-food uses including energy conversion. Issues are dealt with agricultural and environmental soil chemistry (fertilizer management and control of pollutants) and biology of cultivated plants (physiology, biochemistry, genetics, defense against pathogens and pests, geobotany and biodiversity in cultivated and wild species).

Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences - Italy

Initiative partner

The mission of the Department of Agricultural, Forestry, and Food Sciences (DISAFA) is to perform basic and applied research, and to offer educational programmes at undergraduate, post-graduate and doctoral level, in the fields of plant- and animal-based primary production and transformation processes, and on the interactions of these activities with the territory and environment. DiSAFA is devoted to perform world-class fundamental research to deliver knowledge and innovation, and provide evidence-based sustainable solutions to current and future challenges. DiSAFA’s research is focused on the needs of society – be that at local, national or global level – and so make a valuable contribution to the economy, politics and society in general. Our strength lies in our integrated, multidisciplinary approach to research in agricultural, forest and food sciences. Education is based on undergraduate (bachelor) and postgraduate (master) programmes in agriculture, forestry, food production, viticulture and enology, and plant biotechnology. Some courses are delivered in English language. Our doctoral programme in Agricultural, Forestry, and Food Sciences allows post-graduate students from different countries to carry our innovative research and explore new frontiers of science and their applications to current problems of a fast changing society. Our graduates successfully integrate into the primary production and transformation sector in Italy and abroad.

American University of Beirut - Lebanon

Initiative partner

AUB is mainly and education institution whose mission is to provide excellence in education, to participate in the advancement of knowledge through research, and to serve the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. The mission of FAFS is to foster the sustainable enhancement of the health and well being of people and nature throughout Lebanon and the region. To achieve its goals, the Faculty uses basic and applied research as well as student-centered learning to prepare leaders and agents of change to address issues of local and global relevance at the nexus of human nutrition, food security and sustainable use of resources

Holy Spirit University of Kaslik - Lebanon

Initiative partner

The Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) is a private Catholic higher education institution founded by the Lebanese Maronite Order (LMO). It is, thus, the first university which was established upon a Lebanese initiative and by Lebanese citizens (in this case by the LMO monks). From that moment, these monks, who had been entrusted with a teaching mission for more than three centuries, have undertaken the management of USEK. Their remit was to provide university teaching, in conformity with the requirements of the labor market and in close association with scientific research. Being a national institution, USEK has brought its teachings and curricula into line with the official requirements of the Lebanese state, which acknowledges the diplomas it delivers. Furthermore, USEK remains careful in achieving synthesis of tradition and modernism in the educational options it offers, while remaining true to a Christian humanism, which is imprinted on the overall education it provides. Located in a Middle Eastern milieu, in addition to its educational mission, USEK is committed to the preservation and promotion of the Maronite cultural heritage and the creation of a community spirit, in which the spiritual, civic and ethical values of respecting the other and their beliefs prevail. Due to the pressure to democratize higher education, the university is deploying necessary efforts to fight exclusion and abide by a non-elitist policy, albeit without making any concessions with regard to the quality of education. The establishment of decentralized regional centers (in Zahle, Chekka and Rmeich) thus springs out of the wish to implement the right to higher education. USEK has adapted well in light of soaring socioeconomic development and has created new vocational specializations, in order to diversify its education and meet the needs of the labor market. Its objectives also include the installation of welcoming and service-oriented infrastructures which rely on new information and communication technologies. USEK is concerned with the modernization of administrative procedures and academic systems, and also with providing continuous training. USEK is located in the heart of Mount Lebanon; it is multilingual by tradition, and mainly a French-speaking institution. Thanks to an extremely dense network of national and international relations, it plays a key role in training highly-qualified researchers and professionals. Nowadays, USEK welcomes more than 7,500 students across its eleven faculties and four institutes; i.e. fifteen academic units which offer a broad array of high-level diversified education. USEK’s motto: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you to the whole truth.” (Jn 16:13)

Lebanese University - Lebanon

Initiative partner

Teaching all field of Sciences and research

Almond witches’-broom disease contained soon!

The development of an integrated AlmWB disease management strategy.
AlmWB is a newly reported disease; specific molecular diagnostic tools were developed at AUB and used for surveys following training of staff in Lebanese universities and research institute. A network included local institutes, international universities and NGOs was developed. Awareness campaigns were launched for farmers, nurserymen and municipalities; MoA personnel were trained on visual diagnosis of disease symptoms and methods of sample collection and equipped with GPS and necessary tools; maps of the disease spread were created using GIS; regions labeled as disease-free, of limited spread (focus area) or epidemic spread were identified to assess priorities for disease containment. Infected trees in focus areas were removed. Research on disease epidemiology identified two potential vectors, few susceptible hosts and some resistant fruit trees that can be grafted on infected almonds. A nursery law has been drafted

Awareness campaign Awareness campaign held in a highly infected village in the North
Eradication of infected trees Removing the infected trees in focus areas
Grafting experiments vigorous plum growth while the almond growth has died

Farmers were concerned about the death of a large number of almond trees that changed the landscape in several areas. Before starting the management of a new disease, and thanks to the support of the Italian Cooperation, the extent of the spread of the disease has been defined through  national survey and maps. Phytoplasma was extended from the North to the South including the coastal areas and mountains, irrigated and the rain fed regions.The pathogen infected peaches/nectarines and almonds. No regions were found to be totally free from phytoplasma, except the upper part of Mount Lebanon.
The Stone fruits production accounts for about 20% of the agricultural production in Lebanon. This reflects the high economic value of the project by minimizing loss of production of  almond, peach and nectarine. Moreover, almond is unique in terms of resistance to drought and ability to grow in calcareous soils, thus adapted to the Lebanese landscape and can be hardly replaced with other species.

A total of 600 farmers, 90 MoA technicians, 49 nurserymen were trained for symptoms diagnosis and ways of prevention/containment of the disease.
12 GIS maps were elaborated, showing the spread of the disease in each district. In the caza of Rachaya, the dangerous spread of infection was followed over a 3 years period.
As for reducing the spread of infection in the focus areas of South Lebanon and Bekaa Valley, eradication of 6,206 trees took place in 91 locations, involving 674 farmers. MoA compensated farmers by offering appropriate seedlings.
In 2012, five nurseries were found selling AlmWB infected seedlings, eradication actions were taken immediately. Traps and nets installed in various ecosystem collected live insects for use in controlled transmission  tests. Results showed  that  Asymmetrasca  decedens  and  Cixiidae  are  potential  vectors  of  ‘Ca.  P. phoenicium’, and that Smilax aspera is an alternative asymptomatic host plant, which can be one of the disease inoculum source

AlmWB disease, Newly infected villages, Survey 2013 the evolution of the disease, a GIS maps was elaborated

The actual beneficiaries from the project are the following:
• The 600 small and large farmers: They are capable now to identify the symptoms of the disease, to prevent its spread and they are aware that no chemical treatments can give a positive result against the phytoplasma and that an integrated disease management program should be followed, so they are now saving money by avoiding non useful treatments.
• The capacity building of 90 MoA technicians, trained by the NGO to be responsible for field control and monitoring, for sustainable actions.
• The  capacity  building  for  phytoplasma  detection  for  the  Lebanese  Agriculture  Research  Institute  and universities personnel

MoA staff: 2 coordinators, one lawyer, 90 agriculture engineers and technicians;
AVSI staff: 1 coordinator, 6 agriculture engineers
AUB: 1 professor, 2 MS, 1 technician
LARI: 1 professor, 1 MS, 2 engineers
LU: 2 professors
USEK: 1 professor, 1 PhD, 2 MS
UNIMI: 1 professor, 1 researcher, 1 PhD, 2 MS
UNITO: 1 Professor, 2 PhD

organisational Chart Partners involved in the initiative

The major difficulty was having to deal with a new disease of unknown etiology by the local engineers and community, to convince them of the risk of maintaining infected trees and that chemical treatments do not cure the infected tree but lead to the increase of their economic loss. This difficulty was overcome by awareness campaigns.
The delay in taking official actions for several years led to the wide spread of AlmWB. The absence of a law that allows the ministry’s representatives to take samples and enforce tree removal when needed. Therefore, the MoA drafted a law to organize the nurseries sector and empower MoA representatives to take the initiatives when a quarantine organism is detected. Moreover the MoA asked for the interference of local authorities in some regions in order to convince farmers to eradicate the infected trees.
The relative briefness of the period in spring time suitable for sampling. This pushes the technicians to hurry up in sampling to get better results of analysis.

The death of a large number of almond trees changed the landscape in many regions especially in North Lebanon. As Phytoplasma is a disease that cannot be cured, the action was to conserve the production of stone fruits as well as maintaining the Lebanese landscape. Awareness was spread to save the environment by reducing the spray of useless pesticides. Eradication taken had an important impact on reducing disease spread; the capacity building of trained technicians,farmers and nurserymen proved to be a sustainable tool to manage the disease.
The Lebanese entomologists from the Lebanese University were able to identify the habitat of various species of insects in the region of Feghal (North), Kfarkila (South) and Kefraya (Bekaa valley). Disease transmission trials were conducted in screened greenhouses at AUB.
Moreover, two insect proof screen houses were ordered for the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute(LARI) aiming to maintain pathogen-free Lebanese stone fruits germplasm


The initial years of the project focused on the National survey that will continue with a close control of the disease dissemination. During the subsequent visits to the same areas, a high percentage of farmers eradicated their infected trees as a result of the information they received in the previous years. An integrated Network was created among the Lebanese Universities and research institutes and between Lebanese and Italian universities, the national Authority and the Italian NGO. The various stakeholders are now sharing techniques and information very useful for diagnosis improvement and development of management strategies.
The Lebanese AlmWB case was presented in many international scientific conferences and published in international journals and extension pamphlets, allowing the transferability of the acquired experience to other



../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf 'CANDIDATUS PHYTOPLASMA PHOENICIUM' IN LIBANO M.MolinoLoval, Y.Abou-Jawdah2, E. ChoueirP,L.Geagea4, H.Abdul-NourS
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx A PHYTOPLASMA DISEASE IN LEBANON E.CHOUEIRI
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx ALMONDS WITCHES' BROOM PHYTOPLASMA FOISSAC.X
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Almond witches’-broom phytoplasma Yusuf Abou-Jawdah, Hala Dakhil, Shoaa El-Mehtar, and Ing-Ming Lee Abstract:
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf An Epidemic of Almond Witches’-broom in Lebanon Yusuf Abou-Jawdah, Armig Karakashian, and Hana Sobh
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Assymetrasca decedens Y .Abou-Jawdah
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Attempts to eliminate Candidatus phytoplasma phoenicium Lamis Chalak
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Emerging phytoplasma diseases of stone fruits COST Action FA0807
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx First Report of a Phytoplasma Disease of Almond E. Choueiri, F. Jreijiri, S. Issa
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf First report of Almond witches’ broom phytoplasma Y. Abou-Jawdah
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Identification of new 16SrIX subgroups Marina MOLINO LOVA1
../file-system/small/docx ../file-system/small/docx PHYLOGENETICAL CHARACTERIZATION E.VERDIN
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Phytoplasma Transmission Y.Abu - Jawdah
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Survey of Leafhopper Species in Almond Orchards Hala A. Dakhil, Efat Abou-Fakhr Hammad
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma phoenicium’ sp. Eric Verdin

• Press conference of the Minister of Agriculture announcing the presence of the Almond witches’-broom disease and the need of the cooperation of all concerned parties.
• A testimony video to confirm the importance of eradication in minimizing the spread of the disease.
• Coordination among Universities to develop and train on diagnostic techniques and to study the epidemiology of the disease to develop effective IPM strategies.
• Booklets and posters were printed and distributed to all stakeholders.
• Awareness campaigns through PowerPoint presentations to technicians, farmers, nurserymen and students have been implemented.
• A press release to all Lebanese newspapers was distributed with pictures of symptoms and a hot line to for technical support.
• A radio session has been broadcast about phytoplasma disease.
• A video clip was broadcasted on Lebanese TV channels for one week.
• A report was displayed during evening news on TV.
• Scientific papers submitted for publication

phytoplasma on mtv news Awarness on phytoplasma in TV news broadcast