Global Theme: Parthenium


A program focused on controlling an invasive weed that threatens human and livestock health, food security, and biodiversity, building host-country institutional capacity in the process.

Country Profile

The IPM Innovation Lab has been working with farmers and researchers toDSC00544 address this weed in several west African countries since 2004. The project focuses on Ethiopia. This fact sheet provides an overview of our work here, including research challenges and accomplishments.



Parthenium, a native plant of tropical and subtropical South and North America, has spread to East Africa, where it threatens food security, biodiversity, and human and animal health. The lightness of its seed and its prolific seed production, adaptability to a wide range of habitats, drought tolerance, ability to release toxic chemicals against other plants (allelopathy), and rapid growth rate allow parthenium to colonize new areas quickly and extensively.

In eastern Africa, parthenium reduces the yield of many major crops, such as sorghum and corn, competes with preferred pasture species, and taints the milk and meat of domestic animals that feed on it. It causes severe contact dermatitis and respiratory problems in humans. Because of its ability to release toxic chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants, parthenium replaces natural vegetation. It is thus 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.

Despite its aggressiveness, parthenium is successfully managed in Australia and India using biological control agents such as insects, pathogens, and competitive smother plant species. The goal of this project is to develop an integrated weed management system that reduces the adverse impact of parthenium on humans, crops, livestock, and plant biodiversity in East Africa, with a focus on biocontrol.

Program 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 Ethiopians in South Africa in rearing and testing of biological control agents and quarantine procedures

Phase IV official program title

Abating the Weed Parthenium (Parthenium hysterophorus L.) Damage in Eastern Africa Using Integrated Cultural and Biological Control Measures


Principal Investigator

Wondi Mersie, Associate Dean and Director of Research, Agricultural Research Station, Virginia State University


Ethiopia: Million Abebe, Virginia State University | Sintu Alemayehu, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research | Lisanework Nigatu, Haramaya University | Tamado Tana, Haramaya University | Kassahun Zewdie, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research

Australia: Steve Adkins, University of Queensland

Uganda: Jenipher Bisikwa, Makerere University

Kenya: Emily Wabuyele, National Museums

Tanzania: Krissie Clark, PAMS Foundation

South Africa: Andrew McConnachie, ARC-Plant Protection Research Institute | Lorraine Strathie, PPRI Weeds Division

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