The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is helping Mauritius to assist the island country “step up its fight against fruit flies threatening valuable crops” the IAEA said on Monday. The IAEA has given Mauritius a new irradiator that would help it to accomplish this purpose by using the nuclear technique and also help it become “an African training hub against fruit pests”. Advertisement IAEA Director of the Africa Division Technical Cooperation Department, Shaukat Abdulrazak, said during a ceremony in Reduit, Mauritius, that the €283 000 irradiator would also help to “support other African nations in controlling insect pests causing major economic losses to farmers”. Abdulrazak said the irradiator, which the IAEA partly funded, would play a role in helping Mauritius to “more than double its capacity to use the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) – a kind of birth control for such pests – to suppress fruit flies”. There are eight species of fruit flies in Mauritius and four of these species attack vegetables, while the other four attack fleshy fruits. Mauritius’ Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security, Mahen Kumar Seeruttun, said it was estimated that 160 million Mauritian Rupees (over €4-million) were lost annually due to extensive damage fruit flies caused to crops. Abdulrazak said the irradiator would “benefit not only Mauritius but also other African Member States, and the country will act as a training centre for SIT in the region”. The new irradiator would help Mauritius to “mainly combat melon flies (Bactrocera cucurbitae) and peach flies (B. zonata).” Melon flies, said Seeruttun, “attack cucurbits, which are plants of the gourd family – such as melon, pumpkin, squash, and cucumber – that account for about 30% of cultivated areas in the Indian Ocean nation”. He added that without these troublesome fruit flies, “cucurbit production in the country could rise to 32 000 tonnes per year from the current 24 000 tonnes per year”. The irradiator, Abdulrazak noted, would help Mauritius produce and release up to one-million sterile flies per week, up from 400 000. “The economic consequences of fruit flies are so great that countries free of such infestations prohibit the import of produce from countries where the pests are present. This is particularly hard-hitting to the economies of most African countries, which rely heavily on agriculture exports.” Mauritius also launched its first academic training programme in SIT which would be held annually. The four-month post-graduate certificate course would be extended to the African continent and the first intake of students would be from Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia. Abdulrazak said: “SIT is a proven cost-effective and environmentally-friendly technique used in countries across the world to suppress insect pests, such as fruit flies. The technique helps to guarantee the quality of fruits and vegetables and reduces pesticide use. Insects are mass-reared in special facilities, irradiated and released in the field at weekly intervals, with the ultimate goal of significantly reducing their population”. Abdulrazak pointed out that Mauritius’ new irradiator was the culmination of a four-year IAEA technical assistance effort. He added that this new SIT technology would “also support the potential use of this nuclear technique for the control of mosquitos, such as Aedes aegypti, which transmits the Zika virus, chikungunya and dengue fever”.
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