Parthenium in East Africa


This project develops and implements biological control of the invasive weed Parthenium hysterophorus in East Africa through a process of technology development, adoption, and scaling up combined with human and institutional capacity building activities.

Country Profiles

The current iteration of this project focuses on Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. These fact sheets provide an overview of our work in these countries, including past and present projects and accomplishments.

Ethiopia (pdf)
Kenya (pdf)

Tanzania (pdf)


Parthenium hysterophorus, a native plant of tropical and subtropical South and North America, has spread to East Africa, where it is invasive and threatens food security, biodiversity, and human and animal health. Its adaptability to a wide range of habitats, drought-tolerance, ability to release toxic chemicals against other plants (allelopathy), rapid growth-rate, and prolific seed production allows the invasive weed to colonize new areas quickly and extensively. It is so pervasive and destructive that Ethiopian farmers call it “Faramsissa,” meaning “sign your land away.”

In East Africa, Parthenium reduces the yield of many major crops, such as sorghum and corn. It also taints milk and meat when consumed by livestock, and can cause major skin irritation and respiratory problems in humans. And because it can release toxic chemicals against other plants, it also replaces natural vegetation, creating a threat to one of the world’s richest regions of biodiversity.

In African subsistence farming, Parthenium is currently managed by hand-weeding, a task primarily done by women and school-aged children. Any management system that can control Parthenium will reduce the workload on both groups, allowing them to engage in more productive activities, and alleviating the dermatitis caused by handling the weed.

Despite its aggressiveness, Parthenium is successfully managed in Australia and India using biological control agents, such as insects, pathogens, and competitive smother plant species. This project will build on two previous IPM Innovation Lab-funded Parthenium projects to abate the spread and impact of this weed in East Africa.

Achievements and Highlights

  • Established the first official quarantine facility and weed biological control program and research facility in Ethiopia, the Ambo Quarantine Facility. The Ambo center is now serving as a training center on the management of quarantine facilities and biological control, with 75 students and researchers already trained.
  • Created a network of scientists from Australia, India, the United States, and Eastern and Southern Africa devoted to abating the adverse impacts of parthenium.
  • Compiled and mapped data from parthenium surveys in Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Uganda, showing the weed to be much more widespread than previously recorded.
  • Tested host ranges of two biocontrol agents for parthenium at Ambo. The tests showed that both are safe for release. Permission to release one, the leaf-feeding beetle Zygogramma bicolorata, has been obtained, while the application for the other, the stem-boring weevil Listronotus setosipennis, is under review by the Ethiopian government.
  • Supported seven M.S.-seeking graduate students, three of them female. All of them have graduated with thesis projects on Parthenium.
  • Trained five Ethiopian researchers in South Africa in rearing and testing of biological control agents and quarantine procedures.
  • In Ethiopia, both Zygogramma and Listronotus have “established,” and in Uganda, Zygogramma has established. The insects have begun feeding on Parthenium, replenishing land with natural vegetation. 

Current Project Objectives

  • Scale-up the rearing and release of the two approved biocontrol agents, the leaf-feeding beetle Zygogramma bicolorata and the stem-boring weevil Listronotus setosipennis, in Parthenium-infested areas of Ethiopia.
  • Evaluate the establishment and impact of these related agents on Parthenium, crops, and biodiversity.
  • Evaluate new Parthenium biocontrol agents for their safety to non-target plant species under quarantine and, if specific to the weed, seek a permit for their release.
  • Scale-up the release and monitoring of Zygogramma in Tanzania, obtain necessary permits for the field release of Zygogramma in Kenya and Uganda, and release Listronotus and other natural enemies (evaluated in Ethiopia) in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
  • Provide 12 students from East African universities with the opportunity to pursue M.S. degrees while working on Parthenium for their research.
  • Modify existing bio-agent facility in Ambo to accommodate evaluation of two new bio-agents under consideration to import to Ethiopia – Smicronyz lutulentus, a seed-feed weevil, and Carmenta sp, a day-flying, clear-winged moth.
  • Establish new bio-agent rearing and multiplication facility at ARARI’s Kobo Research Center to provide bio-agents to Amhara and Tigray regions of Ethiopia.
  • Build bio-agent rearing and multiplying facilities in Kenya and Uganda after permits are secured to release bio-agents in the two countries.

Wondi Mersie: Principal Investigator

Associate Dean and Director of Research

Virginia State University

Co-Principal Investigators/Collaborators

Maria Elisa Christie

Director, Women and Gender in International Development

Virginia Tech

Tesfay Amare 

Weed Scientist, Ambo University


Lorraine Strathie 

Researcher, ARC-Plant Protection Research Institute

South Africa

Sintu (Lydia) Alemayehu 

Project Coordinator

Virginia State University

Richard Molo 

Senior Research Officer, Nation Agricultural Research Organization


Muo Kasina 

National Sericulture Research Centre, Industrial Crops Research Institute


Samuel Assefa 

Project Coordinator, AGRA


Mulugeta Negeri Tulu 

Dean of the College of Agriculture, Ambo University


Kassahun Zewdie 

Coordinator of Parthenium Weed Management

Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research