ARUA. A new parasitic witch weed that presents features similar to the invasive Japanese dodder also known as the cuscuta japonica is causing nuisance in farms in Arua and Maracha districts.
The outbreak was first noted in a village in Kijomoro Sub County in Maracha district in 2015 after a spouse reportedly brought a piece of the weed from DR Congo as a decorative flower, residents say.
Since then, it has been spread for fun by both children and adults under the veil of ignorance to cover almost the entire Maracha district and parts of Terego West county and Manibe sub County in Arua district.
Calling it a flower that grows without roots, the people just pluck pieces of the cuscuta weed and place it on trees and ornamental shrubs planted around homesteads as fences with the intention to beautify their compounds.
Over five farmers including Mr Geoffrey Matata, Mr Japhet Ededria and Mrs Peace Azicia visited by West Nile Web in Aroi parish, Yivu sub-county in Maracha said they are now fretting because they have seen their citrus and mango trees die after they introduced the weed onto them.
The farmers said trees and crops that have high level of sap boost the survival of the parasite and its impact on the vegetation is worst felt in dry season.
Upon placing the weed on to the host tree, it embeds its sucker into the host plant to begin extracting water and food allowing the weed to grow faster and attach to more parts of the host plant to build a thick mass of yellow outgrowth on top of it.
Mr Alfred Munguleni, the Maracha district agriculture officer suspects that the weed could have been brought by migratory birds.
He said it was first noticed in Lamilapo and Olevu villages in Lamila parish, Kijomoro sub-county but later spread to two neighbouring Sub Counties of Oluvu and Yivu.
Mr Munguleni said the district is powerless to do anything about the dangerous weed as they do not have concrete information on what it is and how it can be contained.
In Katrini Sub County, Arua district, residents say the weed was introduced last year by some elders who visited Kijomoro Sub County for a traditional function.
They got excited when they saw the strange growth and came back with some stems to propagate on the trees that provide shade at their homes.
One of them is a retired teacher Mr Anthony Levua from Olodriku village in Olea parish who said they admired the weed so much that they begged the host family head to allow them some stems for their own propagation.
His spouse Mrs Knight Levua is now unhappy because the only tree they depended on for shade is at the verge of dying.
The Arua district agricultural officer Mrs Gertrude Badaru said she is appalled that people are spreading unfamiliar things without self-caution.
“This weed attacks perennial crops and it’s coming at a time when people are losing interest in growing cereal crops due to striga means, we are finished. If the spread of this weed is not stopped, we could lose all the mangoes, orange and coffee seedlings the government is distributing under the operation wealth creations programme,” she warned.
Mrs Badaru said she learned of the existence of the parasitic weed a week ago and has since instructed sub county extension workers to begin sensitisation in churches and among the communities.
“We are asking farmers to cut and burn all infested trees. The earlier we eradicate this menace the better,” she said.
She added that she was writing to the agriculture ministry to inform them of the new threat to the region that predominantly survives on subsistence farming.
Dr Sadik Kassim, the director of Abi zonal agricultural research and development institute told the West Nile Web that he learnt of the outbreak of cuscuta weed in the region just yesterday and he has dispatched a staff member to check it out and verify.
The Carlifornia state government of United States which has since 2008 developed an eradication protocol for Japanese dodder or cuscuta japonica describes it on its official website as fast growing native Asia weed.
Its host range include stone fruits, citrus, eggplants and potatoes as well as ornamental herbaceous and woody plants.