A success story from Patagonia
Non-aggressive pest management methods are proven effective yet again
9 February 2006, Rome - Pest control using low environmental impact technology has marked up another success with the eradication of the Mediterranean fruit fly in Argentina's Patagonia region through the use of a method known as the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) in combination with other pest control and monitoring strategies.
The successful implementation of these techniques was made possible thanks to years of technical support from the Joint FAO/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) programme.
The effectiveness of this integrated approach received official recognition from international plant health authorities in December 2005, when the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the United States declared Argentina's Patagonia region to be fruit fly-free.
This success crowned a decade of technical support provided to Argentina by the Joint FAO/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Programme of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. The Programme fielded one of its experts in Patagonia in the 1990s to advise the Argentine plant protection authorities on the use of SIT as part of an integrated pest control strategy.
SIT involves sterilizing large numbers of insects by subjecting them to low levels of gamma radiation. Sterilized males are then released in infested areas, where they mate with fertile wild females but produce no offspring. If sterile males outnumber wild males, the wild population rapidly declines and gradually disappears.
"It is a birth control technology, which unlike most other pest control methods is ecologically friendly and cannot impact biodiversity or harm the environment. Since the released insects are sterile, they cannot become established in the ecosystems and thus have no potential to cause future adverse effects on the environment," explained Walther R. Enkerlin, a member of the joint FAO/AIEA programme, which for many years has promoted the application of atomic energy in agriculture.
Mr Enkerlin also emphasized another benefit of SIT: sterile insects can be released from the air, even at high altitudes, resulting in a uniform distribution. It is therefore a feasible technique even in difficult-to-access habitats such as forests or mountains, or in protected areas.
"Animal and crop losses are reduced, while at the same time insecticide use is reduced as well, letting natural predators take on pests instead," he explained, emphasizing the advantages of SIT over conventional pesticides and insecticides, which destroy all types of fauna and can, in the case of substances containing neurotoxins, be dangerous to humans.
Economic benefits to exporters
As a result of APHIS's decision to certify Patagonia as fruit fly-free, the region will now be able to export fresh fruits and vegetables - mostly pears and apples - to the U.S. without any quarantine requirements, which, according Argentina's Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria (SENASA), will add up to annual savings of about two million dollars for exporters. The most benefited production areas are Río Negro and Neuquén.
Following this success, Argentina's Ministry of Agriculture has announced that it will fund a new integrated pest management programme, also involving SIT, over a 56 000 hectare area in the country's main citrus producing provinces of Entre Ríos and Corrientes, in the northeast.
The results in Patagonia were possible thanks to close cooperation between several governmental and non-governmental organizations and producers, including Senasa and the Fundación Barrera Patagónica (FUNBAPA).
Positive experiences in other countries
FAO and the AIEA have also helped Chile and Mexico to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly using SIT.
Additionally, the technique was used to eradicate the screw-worm in North Africa in the early 1990s, with great success. There, FAO launched an intense eradication campaign involving the release of 40 million sterile males every week over an area of more than 40 000 square kilometres. The insects were flown by air from the only production centre existant at the time, in Mexico. That campaign was successfully completed in 1991.
SIT has also been successfully used against other pests, including the Tsetse fly in Africa.
The experience built up over years of work has been recently set out in a new FAO/AIEA book, Sterile Insect Technique: Principles and Practice in area-wide Integrated Pest Management, the first comprehensive analysis of SIT to be published.
Information Officer, FAO
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