Ethiopian fly factory guns for 'poverty insect'
A tsetse fly factory has been opened in Ethiopia to help eradicate the "poverty insect" and liberate the key livestock sector from diseases carried by the pest.
The government-owned Kaliti Tsetse Rearing and Irradiation Centre is the first large-scale fly factory in Africa.
It is scheduled to supply the first flies for test releases in the area of the Southern Tsetse Eradication Project later this year. The eventual aim is to produce sufficient sterile flies to cover about 8 000 square kilometres of tsetse-infested arable land at any time.
The government project is guided by the Vienna-based Joint FAO/IAEA Programme, a partnership between FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which develops and deploys nuclear techniques in food and agriculture.
The technique to be used in Ethiopia, called the sterile insect technique, is described below.
The United States of America and Japan contributed to the eradication initiative along with Ethiopia, which was aided by the African Union and the African Development Bank.
Tsetse flies pass on the disease nagana, causing fever, lethargy, abortions and death among livestock. In this way they damage a major source of draught power, meat, milk and natural fertilizer.
The insects – which infest around 200 000 square kilometres of Ethiopia, thereof 24 million hectares in the Southern Rift Valley area – can also transmit the fatal disease sleeping sickness in humans, a major problem in many other African countries.
“Productive farming and livestock are impossible while there are tsetse,” says Udo Feldmann, of the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme’s Insect Pest Control section.
“People are forced to farm without access to livestock. Where there is access, milk production may be very low and cattle sickness high.”
The impact on livelihoods can be immense in a country where 90 per cent of people work in agriculture, and has led to tsetse being called the "poverty insect".
A report by the UK Department for International Development has estimated that the tsetse fly's annual cost to agriculture in Africa totals US$4.5 billion.
Under the sterile insect technique, wild flies are trapped and used for breeding. While a large colony is being established, the wild tsetse fly populations in the target areas are suppressed using different techniques.
Then the "mop-up" phase starts, whereby most of the factory-produced males are sterilised using small doses of gamma rays, and then released on a weekly basis over several months. Wild females that mate with them create no off-spring. Gradually the population is reduced.
A similar project in Zanzibar, United Republic of Tanzania, has meant no tsetse flies and no tsetse-borne disease being detected since 1996.
The Joint FAO/IAEA Programme’s laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, has played a major role in the evolution of the sterile insect technique through research.
Innovations have included genetic sexing to ensure that only sterile males are released. The laboratory also trains scientists from FAO member countries and previously carried out mass breeding.
The Joint Programme also advises on grassroots communication, needed to ensure livestock owners understand and support the programme. “Co-operation with villagers is another crucial aspect. For example farmers may ask: ‘You removed all these flies, now why are you releasing more?’ This needs to be explained to sustain farmers’ support” says Mr Feldmann.
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