Georgia's Success in Battling Stink Bug Opens Potential for Increased U.S. Trade
Over the last five years, the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) has caused Georgia’s largest exports — hazelnuts — to drop by one-third. Known and named for its foul odor, the BMSB or “stink bug” spread rapidly in Georgia and damaged $60 million worth of hazelnuts (also known as Filberts) and other crops including grapes, corn, peaches, apples and vegetables.
With the help of leadership from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Georgia Hazelnut Improvement Project (G-HIP), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of State (DOS), the Government of Georgia and farmers started centers to consolidate data, training, and research as well as communication hubs to monitor and reduce stink bug damage. In 2016, Georgia’s National Food Agency and the world’s leading hazelnut buyer, Ferrero, organized an international technical committee to analyze the stink bug problem and advise on ways to address it.
Georgia also created a centralized Stink Bug Elimination Command Center to:
- Train technicians and scientists in pest management.
- Develop online extension and data sharing tools.
- Purchase pesticide application technology and tractors.
After an international response and hard-fought gains by the Georgian economic sector, the stink bug infestation is now manageable, but tackling this pest exposed Georgia’s need for a systemic approach to pest management and plant health.
USDA’s partner for plant health work in Georgia, Dr. Bill Erysian of California State University, Fresno sees the country’s need for a broad-based approach for pest control, also known as integrated pest management (IPM), noting, “the material and human capital investments could be used to broaden current IPM efforts and establish a national program.”
Recent Georgian updates to facilities are furthering IPM, including:
- A centralized diagnostic laboratory focused on international trade standards and equipped for arthropod, pathogen, weed and nematode identification.
- Upgrades on five of nine agricultural border inspection stations for animal and plant products.
- Formation of phytosanitary nurseries for sanitary seeds and grafts for growers.
In the past year and a half, the USDA and Dr. Erysian’s team have interviewed more than 100 government officials and worked with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture and the National Food Agency to create an integrated pest management roadmap to help guide Georgia in adopting cost-effective and safe pest management practices. Since IPM has become the pest management standard in international agriculture, one of the goals of the roadmap is to help Georgia meet the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) — standards championed by the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). Pest monitoring is the backbone of IPM and supplies data on pest presence, distribution and density. Without this, it is impossible to adhere to IPPC regulations and approximate international trade standards.
Currently, pest monitoring is irregular, making it difficult to show patterns of pest ecology or keep a high-quality centralized pest database. There are other challenges as well:
- Georgia’s diverse landscape, wide range of agricultural products and lack of domestic inspection facilities in the country and along shared borders — including in the two ungoverned breakaway regions — further complicates the situation.
- Of nine customs stations, only five have updated and appropriately equipped agricultural inspection stations and there are multiple unofficial border crossings in which no inspection exists.
- The decentralized agricultural system and high number of smallholder farmers also make a national pest management program difficult. The average farm is smaller than 0.5 hectares, and low production keeps the Georgian market too small to attract international agricultural manufacturers of inputs, mechanization or technology.
- It is difficult to establish commodity groups or growers’ unions that could help fund IPM research, distribute recommendations or collect data for pest management databases.
To support Georgia’s IPM roadmap adoption, the Government of Georgia has created a National Phytosanitary Steering Committee to oversee domestic plant health policy. USDA and Claifornia State University, Fresno are developing online IPM modules and preparing a pilot program to assess IPM strategies.
By building Georgia’s know-how and ability to meet international trading standards, this information will increase Georgia’s agricultural strength, opening the doors to global markets and avoiding potential disruptions to U.S.-Georgia agricultural trade. The IPM roadmap and other tools are making Georgia a stronger agricultural producer as well as a like-minded trading partner for the U.S. That’s good news for hazelnut lovers — just ask Martha Stewart.
This post was co-written by Alexis Rai Heather and Deborah Hamilton, international program specialists at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.