Vol. 9(39), pp. 2901-2910, 25 September, 2014
Article Number: AA1919847521
Copyright © 2014
Author(s) retain the copyright of this article
African Journal of Agricultural
Full Length Research Paper
Preliminary studies on termite damage on rural houses
in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia
Daniel Getahun Debelo1 and Emana Getu Degaga2*
1Department of Biology, Adama Science and Technology University, P. O. Box 1888, Adama, Ethiopia.
2College of Natural Sciences, Addis Ababa University, P. O. Box 1176, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Received 7 March, 2014; Accepted 7 May, 2014
Termites are serious pests of agricultural crops and rural houses in Ethiopia. Some attempts were
made to control termites on crops. However, termite problem on rural houses is a neglected area
regardless of the intensity of the problem which at times results in total collapses of newly constructed
houses. To collect preliminary information on status of termite infestation to rural houses, surveys were
conducted in three districts of the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia in 2012. Data were collected by direct
observations and through semi-structured interviews. A total of 58 houses were inspected in the three
districts of which 91% were termite infested at deferent levels. About 81% of the houses aged less than
10 years. Over half of the homeowners used pre-construction preventive measures such as plastic
sheet cover and painting with used engine oil. Even though termite infestation was common and
serious, only 35% of the homeowners took post construction preventive measures mainly because of
lack of knowledge on the problem. The post construction termite control methods used in the study
area were removing or scratching mud tubes from the infested parts and painting of the houses with
used engine oil. There was no evidence of using synthetic chemicals for the management of termites on
rural houses. The local government officials or Development Agents were not aware of termite
problems in rural houses as the problem was only seen as a secondary problem. Termite samples were
collected from houses, wooden fences and mounds built attached to the exterior walls of the houses.
The collected termites were only from the genera Macrotermes and Odontotermes where about 79%
was found to be from the former genus. This study explicitly indicated that termites have a great impact
on local houses leading to frequent repairing and rebuilding. This damage will eventually lead to
deforestation and environmental degradation in addition to its economic impact and spread of the
termites. According to key informants of the study areas termite resistant tree species became rare
and/or went extinct since they are used for all types of construction. In this study, preliminary
information which can clearly demonstrate the level of termite infestation on local houses was obtained
which can serve as an important input for the government both for awareness creation and developing
best termite management practices.
Key words: Macrotermes, Odontotermes, rural houses, survey, termites, termite control measures.
Termites are social insects which belong to the insect
order Isoptera. Termites are an essential member of the
soil ecosystem and are found throughout the world
(Abdel and Skai, 2011). They are the most important and
most efficient lignocellulose decomposers. Though
termites have beneficial values such as organic matter
2902 Afr. J. Agric. Res.
recycling, improving soil fertility and serving as food
sources for other animals, they have also harmful effects
which include damage to crops, forestry and wooden
structures (Changlu et al., 2009; UNEP, 2000). Damage
may extend to household furniture, paper products, many
synthetic materials and food items. Each year hundreds
of thousands of structures such as bridges, dams, decks,
homes, retaining walls, roads, utility poles, and
underground cables and pipes require treatment against
termites (UNEP, 2000).
Of about 2800 described species of termites, 185
species are known as pests of agricultural settings and
housing structures (Krishna and Weesner, 1970). The
number of species causing damage to building is
between 70 and 80 out of which 50 species are serious
pests that require management (Edwards and Mill, 1986;
More than 1,000 of the 2,600 recognized species of
termites are found in Africa (UNEP, 2000). Some of the
most economically important wood feeding species of
termites found in the tropics, sub-tropics and temperate
regions are in the genera Coptotermes, Odontotermes,
Macrotermes, Microcerotermes, Microtermes,
Reticulitermes Ancisrotermes, Schedorhinotermes and
Pseudacanthotermes (Abdurahman, 2000; Ahmed and
Within the wide limits of their geographical distribution,
termites will destroy all unprotected timber used in
construction work or as fittings, unless it has been
rendered toxic, unpalatable or is naturally resistant to
termites (Harris, 1971). Termites may attack timber
anywhere in a building from below floor level to the
highest point in the roof. The workers of most
subterranean species enter from the soil, either directly
into timber, through cracks in concrete flooring or by
constructing shelter tubes over brick or concrete footings
and walls (Edwards and Mill, 1986).
The annual economic cost of structural damage to
buildings from termites in urban areas is about $ 15-20
billion dollars worldwide (Geer, 2005; Abdel and Skai,
In the majority of the local houses in developing country
like Ethiopia, the wall is made of mud, while the roof is
grass thatched which is conducive for termite infestation.
Thatching in African houses can be expected to last 5 to
6 years (Pearce, 1997). The wood/straw thatch buildings,
characteristics of farming communities in Ethiopia and
much of sub-Saharan Africa are susceptible to termite
damage, particularly in the tropical savanna areas where
Macrotermitinae are abundant. Abdurahman (1990)
reported that in western Ethiopia thatched roof huts are
destroyed in less than five years and corrugated iron roof
houses in less than eight years.
The Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia is among the termite
prone regions of the country probably next to western
Ethiopia. However, no information is available on the
severity of termites particularly on the local houses from
this part of the country. Hence, the current study was
initiated with the following objectives:
(a) To survey termite damage to rural wooden houses;
(b) To collect information on public opinion concerning
termite damage to local houses and control practices
used by the local people, and
(c) To identify termite species infesting local houses.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Description of the study sites
Surveys of termite infested houses were conducted in four Peasant
Associations (PAs) of three districts of the Central Rift Valley of
Ethiopia. The PAS were Tuqa Langano (08°16'N, 38°55E,1686
masl) in Bora District, Oda Boqota (08°10'N, 38°50'E, 1666 masl)
in Dugda District, Warja Washgula (07°56'N, 38°41'E, 1652 masl)
and Garbi Widana Boramo (07°53'N, 38°41E, 1650 masl,) in Adami
Tullu Jiddo Kombolcha District (Figure 1). The Central Rift Valley is
well-known for its biodiversity and the vegetation is characterized by
Acacia trees or species (Huib and Herco, 2006). The study sites
were characterized by semi-arid climates. The average annual
precipitation was about 700 mm of which 42% falls between June
and September. The monthly maximum temperature varies from 25
to 30°C and the minimum temperature ranges between 10 and
20°C (Huib and Herco, 2006). The mean annual temperature was
20°C. The driest months were November and December, while May
is the hottest month with a mean maximum temperature of 28°C.
December is the coldest month with a mean minimum temperature
of 10°C. The greatest proportion of the land is grown with maize
and haricot bean (Mengistu, 2008).
The surveys were carried out from September 2012 to January
2013 just after the long rainy season which is said to be the highest
termite activities period. Selection of the districts was proposed by
the Agricultural Bureau at zonal and district levels based on termite
abundance and accessibility.
Survey methods and data collection
The surveys were conducted using an open-ended semi-structured
questionnaire and interviews with the homeowners, and
observation of termite infested houses. The questionnaire was
dispatched to 51 farmers selected randomly from the four PAs of
the three districts and the respondents’ filled the questionnaire with
the help of Development Agents. Short training was also given to
the farmers on how to fill the questionnaire. A total of fifty-eight
homeowners, different from those who filled the questionnaire, were
selected randomly and their houses were assessed for termite
infestation.Before carrying out the assessment and the interview,
each homeowner was asked whether his/her house was infested by
termite or not. Termite infestation assessment to houses comprised
of visual observation of signs such as termite galleries (mud tubes)
on walls, pores in walls, damaged parts such as roofs (wood and
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Debelo and Degaga 2903
Figure 1. Map of the study sites.
grass), window and door frames, wood in walls and wooden
furniture among others. Pieces of wood in the premises and
wooden fences were also inspected for those houses which had
The age of the houses and when the wall was made of wood, the
type of plant from which the wood came were also recorded by
asking the owners. A house was said to be infested when there was
any sign of termite attack to the house itself, furniture found in it,
presence of mud tubes on walls or floors and spots of fecal
pelletamong others. When a house was found infested, its condition
was recorded as:
1. Slightly infested: Mud tubes on walls, roof, window and door
frames, presence of mounds found externally at the base of walls
and inside houses without any sign of damage or little damage.
2. Moderately infested: Woods in wall, window and door frames,
grass in grass thatched roofs or woods supporting roofs partially
eaten, but were not cut completely.
3. Severely infested but not collapsed: Window, door frames, some
of the woods in wall and/or roof were eaten and cut completely,
grass in roof thatched houses was eaten and the house drips as a
result, window and/or door frames were cut and left their original
normal position, or as a result of termite attack the house was tilted
and was about to collapse.
4. Collapsed: The house was highly damaged and as a result tilted
and the owner supported it by wooden pole to prevent it from
collapsing, or totally collapsed.
Preconstruction preventive methods and post construction control
measures used by the homeowners, type of wood in wooden wall
houses, resistance level of the wood to termites, availability of the
plants were recorded during the interviews. Termites were collected
and preserved in 80% alcohol and were later identified with the help
of taxonomic keys of Abdurahman (1991). Plant species used for
the construction of the houses were identified at the National
Herbarium of Addis Ababa University, using freshly collected plants
2904 Afr. J. Agric. Res.
Table 1. Percent termite infestation on rural houses as affected by age.
Age distribution of the
surveyed houses in year
Percentage of houses
belonging to each age
infested by termites
1-3 20.7 19.0
4-6 44.8 39.7
7-9 17.2 15.5
10-12 10.3 10.3
13-15 5.2 5.2
16+ 1.7 1.7
Table 2. Percent termite infested houses in relation to construction materials.
of the houses
Status of the houses in terms of
none infested Infested
Mud brick 35 8.6 51.7
Wood 23 0.0 39.7
Total 58 8.6 91.4
of the same species.
As the study was none replicated experiments descriptive statistics
such as mean and percentage among others were used to
determine termite infestation on rural houses. Data collected from
respondents and participants were qualitatively interpreted.
Table 1 depicts the effect of age on termite infestation.
Houses aging from 1 to 3 years were less infested than
old houses greater than 7 years. Over 65% of the studied
houses were less than 7 years old and the highest
percent termite infestation for this age group houses were
about 40%. Table 2 demonstrated that about 60% of the
surveyed houses were made of mud brick, while 40% of
them were wooden wall. Only 8.6% of the houses were
free of termite infestation (Table 2). About 55% of the
respondents indicated that within 1 to 2 years time newly
built houses can be infested by termites. Less than 5% of
the respondents indicated that newly built houses can be
infested by termites within 7 to 8 years (Figure 2). Over
50% of the respondents indicated that newly built houses
require repair within 3 to 4 years. Less than 5% of the
respondents indicated that houses may require repair at
greater than 8 years old (Figure 3).
Over 45% of the surveyed houses were 4 to 6 years
old, while only 3% of the surveyed houses were greater
than 16 years old (Figure 4). Nearly 50% of the surveyed
houses were rated as severely termite infested houses,
while 3% of the houses collapsed due to termites (Figure
Samples of pictorial descriptions of termite infested
houses are shown in Plates 1 to 3. The plates
demonstrate a roof supporting timber completely cut by
termites (Plate 1), termite infested houses supported by
poles (Plate 2) and severely damaged door frame (Plate
Both susceptible and resistant plant species were used
for the construction of the surveyed houses (Table 3).
Acacia tortillis, Eucalyptus spp., Acacia albida, Balantes
aegyptus and Croton macrostachyus were the
susceptible plant species used for the construction. The
resistant plant species used in the construction include
Acacia etbaica, Dichrostachys cinera, Flueggea virosa
and Acacia Senegal.
Plastic sheet cover followed by used engine oil before
construction and mud tube removal followed by wood ash
and used engine after construction were found to be the
major termite management options in the study areas
(Table 4). About 79% of the termites causing damage to
houses in the study area were the genus Macrotermes,
while the rest 21% consists of the genus Odontotermes.
The absence of very old houses, the infestation of most
of the houses, and severe damage recorded show
frequent rebuilding of houses and termite severity to rural
houses. Most of the farmers believed that houses would
collapse if they were not repaired within six years after
Debelo and Degaga 2905
Figure 2. Percentage respondents showing years after which newly constructed houses
can be infested by termites.
Figure 3. Percentage respondents showing years after which newly constructed houses
need repair due to termite infestation.
construction. Termite damage to buildings in tropical
countries is a serious concern which is in part due to the
diversity of termites in these areas and poor building
design (Abdel and Skai, 2011). Thatching in African
houses can be expected to last 5 to 6 years (Pearce,
1997). In western Ethiopia thatched roof huts are
destroyed in less than five years and corrugated iron roof
houses in less than eight years (Abdurahman, 1990).
Higher infestation of wooden wall houses than mud
brick houses could be attributed to the attraction of
termites to wood (cellulose) used in construction and the
woody debris left in soil and around houses after
construction. It is also more likely that infested wooden
wall houses have shorter life than mud brick houses
because as termites eat woods in the former, the walls
will lose support and eventually collapse. But in mud brick
walls, termites simply move through the walls to reach
the roof and thus they have little effect on the integrity of
2906 Afr. J. Agric. Res.
Figure 4. Percentage age distribution of surveyed houses.
Figure 5. Percent of houses fall under different termite infestation category.
Debelo and Degaga 2907
Plate 1. A roof supporting timber completely cut by termites.
Plate 2. Termite infested houses supported by poles.
the wall. But, once they have reached the roof, especially
iron corrugated roof houses, which contain only a few
roof supporting timbers, termites ring-cut the timbers at
their junction with the wall leaving the roof without being
fixed to the wall. As the damage is not usually visible, the
homeowners do not take action timely, and thus the
whole roof will be removed completely even by a slight
wind. Some participants told the authors that in Warja
Washgula Farmers’ Association, roofs of 20 iron
corrugated houses were removed by wind at the same
time in the year 2008.
The homeowners used different kinds of wood species
in building their houses and they were able to identify
susceptible and resistant woods to termites that were
used in their area for house construction. All farmers
regarded D. cinerea, A. etbaica, and F. virosa as highly
resistant to termites. Logan et al. (1990) reported that
many timbers contain chemicals or complex mixtures of
2908 Afr. J. Agric. Res.
Plate 3. Severely damaged door frame.
Table 3. Plant species used for the construction of the studied rural houses and their reaction
Plant reaction Names of plants
Local name Scientific name
Dhaddacha/Ajoo Acacia tortillis (Forskk)
Muka Bargama/Barzafii Eucalyptus spp.
Garbii Acacia albida Del.
Badana Balantes aegytica (L.) Del
Bakanissa Croton macrostachyus Del.
Doddota Acacia etbaica Schweinf
Geetoo/haxxee/jirmee Dichrostachys cinera (L.) Wight & Am
Daboobessa Flueggea virosa (Willd) Voigt
Saphanga/Qarxafaa Acacia Senegal (L.) Willd
Table 4. Numbers of homeowners used different control/management strategies identified during the survey,
Management options Preconstruction (%) Post construction (%)
No. of users % of users No. of users % of users
Synthetic termiticide (Malathion) 0 0.0 2 6.7
Herbicide 0 0.0 2 6.7
Wood ash 5 9.8 5 16.7
Decomposed cow dung and/or goat urine 1 1.9 2 6.7
Mound destruction/queen removal 0 0.0 2 6.7
Plastic sheet cover 24 47.1 2 6.7
Used engine oil 13 25.5 5 16.7
Mud tube removal (scratching) - - 8 26.7
Site selection 1 1.9 - -
Debris removal /sanitation 1 1.9 1 3.3
Use of grass free of termites 2 3.9 - -
Floor, perimeter – cement 1 1.9 0 0
Kerosine 0 0.0 1 3.3
Use of mud brick instead of wood 2 3.9 - -
Sand, gravel 1 1.9 - -
- = Not applicable.
chemicals that repel or kill termites or interfere with their
gut fauna. Factors affecting wood consumption by
termites are numerous and complexly related. Among the
most important of these factors are wood species and
hardness, presence of toxic substances, feeding
inhibitors or deterrents, presence or absence of fungi and
degree of fungal decay, moisture content of wood and
soil among others (Hickin, 1971; Getachew et al., 2003;
Regina et al., 2004; Behailu et al., 2011).
Over 90% of the houses were infested, although about
60% of the homeowners used preconstruction preventive
measures implying that the methods are ineffective.
Plastic sheets were the most popularly used method and
their inefficacy could be attributed to their non-termite
resistance and may be incorrect use. It is also practically
impossible to exclude the house totally from termites by
plastic materials. Hickin (1971) and Pearce (1997) have
reported that plastic materials are often eaten by termites
and their resistance depends mainly on their density, the
compounds they contain, thickness, and intrinsic
hardness. UNEP (2000) and Ahmed and French (2008)
also reported that when certain plastic materials are used
as exclusion or barrier they can be breached and bridged
over by foraging mud tunnels. Use of engine oil was also
ineffective in protecting houses from termite attack.
Behailu et al. (2011) noted that at field condition stakes of
different timber species, treated with used engine oil
using hot-and-cold dipping open tank thermal method,
were attacked by termites before the third year of staking
Farmers had awareness about the control of termites
by mound destruction and queen removal and most of
the homeowners believed that termites came out of the
mounds which were found around their homes.
Macrotermes termite mounds were recorded in the
vicinity of most of the infested houses. However, only a
very small proportion (3.5%) of farmers destroyed
mounds after their houses were infested. About 79% of
the termites sampled from infested houses belonged to
mound-forming Macrotermes while the rest belonged to
Odontotermes (21%). Therefore, the result of this study
indicated that Macrotermes was a serious pest to wooden
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This research has revealed that termites were serious
pests of rural houses of resource poor farmers and the
farmers were well aware of the problem. Macrotermes to
a larger extent and Odontotermes to a lesser extent were
the only termite genera found causing damage to rural
houses. The farmers had attempted a number of
traditional control methods mostly plastic sheets and
painting of used engine oil, but they were ineffective.
Other than the traditional management options
attempted, the homeowners had no awareness regarding
what measures they may take or whom to contact in
order to safeguard their homes. Few persons realized
Debelo and Degaga 2909
that the safest and cheapest termite control measures
are dusting of borates, like 20 Mule Team Borax (2014).
Frequent repairing and rebuilding of houses within a
few years is uneconomical for subsistence farmers.
Besides, it has negative environmental impacts as plants
are the major source for building materials. Therefore,
farmers should be given awareness about the general
views of termites and ways by which they can protect
their homes from damage. Therefore, there is a need for
comprehensive termite control approaches, which should
involve both the local communities, concerned
government bodies and more use of resistant wood
Conflict of Interest
The author(s) have not declared any conflict of interest.
The authors are grateful to Adama Science and
Technology University (ASTU) for funding the research.
Special thanks go to the communities that participated in
this research. They also extends their thanks to Urgessa,
Mohammed and Abdulakim for field assistance.
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