Benefits of Nuclear Science for Women

Women´s Work - Eliminate the Tsetse, Lessen the Toil

Eliminate the Tsetse, Lessen the Toil

She works solidly the entire day to plow an area that takes a team of oxen one and a half hours to complete. For farmers like Mgeni Lamek, a lack of livestock forces her to till the fields by hand. Large work animals are prized on a continent where flies kill three million livestock animals every year. This deadly fly has turned fertile African lands into an uninhabited "green desert". Much of Africa´s best land - particularly in river valleys and moist areas, where the potential for mixed farming is good - lies uncultivated, while tsetse free areas face collapse from overuse by humans.

The fly is the carrier of the single cell parasite trypanosome, which attacks the blood and nervous system of its victims, causing sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in livestock. It is transmitted by the biting tsetse fly when the insect seeks a blood meal.

However, hopes are high that nuclear technology will ease the burden of work that falls on farmers like Mgeni Lamek and, will also save lives. The IAEA is supporting African States in implementing their tsetse eradication campaign across the continent using the radiation-induced sterile insect technique (SIT), which is successfully stamping out the tsetse.

"SIT achieved what no other means of control had been able to accomplish before," says Peter Salema, deputy director of the Vienna based joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. "It demonstrated its potential for Africa by cleaning up the last tsetse fly from Zanzibar. Cattle farmers and fruit growers in North and South America have prospered enormously from SIT against the New World Screwworm and the Mediterranean fruit fly. Now it is Africa´s turn to use it against the tsetse."

The SIT method uses gamma radiation from a cobalt-60 source to sterilize male flies. Hundreds of thousands of these sterile males are then released into the breeding population of a target region. The sterile males are able to produce sperm and mate, but the eggs in the female do not develop.

In Zanzibar, the island Ministry of Agriculture has reported that since the program to control and eradicate the tsetse began, milk production has tripled, local beef production has doubled and the number of farmers who fertilize crops with manure has multiplied five fold.

In Mali, preparation for releasing sterilized tsetse flies over a 2500 km2 area has begun, while Ethiopia is constructing a factory for sterile tsetse production whose release will cover 5000 km2.

The ownership and use of livestock by more African farmers would have a profound impact on hunger and poverty on the continent, providing milk and meat and enhancing crop production - elements of mixed farming that are difficult to achieve in tsetse-infested zones. "Even the poorest of the poor, for whom the risk of livestock ownership is too hazardous with the tsetse, would benefit," says Mr. Salema.

See more stories on how nuclear techniques are improving the lives and health of women across the globe:
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- Radiotherapy Offers Hope »