Failure to rid mesquite weeds to attract fine

By Zainab Al Nasseri — MUSCAT: Seeking to accelerate the eradication of the mesquite plant menace in the Sultanate, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has threatened to slap a hefty fine of RO 1000 on anyone found importing seeds or harbouring the weed on their premises. A ministerial decision was issued to this effect by Dr Fuad bin Jaafar al Sajwani, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, yesterday. It also prescribes action against those who fail to clear their landholdings of mesquite trees once instructed to do so.
The thorny plant, known by its scientific name Prosopis juliflora, is the subject of a nationwide campaign spearheaded by the government in light of the considerable harm it is known to cause the surrounding habitat. As a weed, it quickly proliferates across the countryside, squeezing the soil out of any moisture and nutrients, and thereby imperils the growth indigenous plant species thriving in the area.
The Decision requires property developers, investors, owners and leaseholders to comply with the Ministry’s guidelines on the elimination and eradication of mesquite trees from their properties and get rid of any fallen seeds once they are instructed in writing by authorities. In the event that the property owners fail to act on these instructions, the Ministry itself will undertake the rid the property of the menace and recoup the cost from the owner.
Launched around the middle of last year, the National Mesquite Management Project has since covered Sohar, Barka and Suwaiq, with the campaign currently in full swing in Musannah. According to officials, private firms are also getting involved in eradication efforts in Salalah and Taqa in Dhofar Governorate. Campaign initiatives have typically attracted large numbers of volunteers from all walks of life, including those from the government and private sectors, military establishments, and other civil and non-governmental organisations.
Hamood al Hasani, Director General of Animal and Plant Research, said a number of activities are planned to help spread awareness about the harmful characteristics of the mesquite species.
“Dr Al Sajwani has given instructions for the expansion of the campaign and to enlighten the wider community about this menace. We are urging the entire society to come together in the fight against the mesquite plant because of the harm it poses not only animals and livestock, but also local populations,” he said.
The official pointed out that the mesquite tree has already caused a lot of problems in urban areas. “Below the soil surface, the roots of the mesquite penetrate sewage and water pipes, causing potential ruptures. The plant also competes for moisture and nutrients at the peril of other indigenous vegetation. Above ground, the plant has large thorns that can injure animals and humans too.  Many people are also allergic to pollen from the plant, while its fruit is toxic to foraging livestock, causing their teeth to fall off.  Besides, as they tend to cover large parts of a wadi, they tend to alter wadi flows and thereby have a negative impact on groundwater levels.
Mesquite tree is deciduous tree that belongs to the legume family. Mesquite tree can be found in dry, warm, arid and semi-arid areas around the world today. It is classified as invasive in all areas outside its native range due to its ability to absorb all available water from the ground and prevent growth of nearby plants. People cultivate the mesquite tree mainly for ornamental purposes. Of the 44 species of mesquite, four thrive in the Middle East including the Sultanate.