Valencia, Spain -- Spain´s citrus fruit stands to become more competitive in international markets, thanks to expanded use of a pest control technology rooted in applications of nuclear science. A new pest-control facility - Europe´s first such large-scale plant - opened in Valencia in late April that experts say will cut the use of pesticides and protect citrus fruit from the destructive Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly).
The Valencia facility is the latest to incorporate the "Sterile Insect Technique" (SIT), a method often described as biological birth control for insects. The plant is built to rear and sterilize millions of male Medflies that are released into targeted areas as part of Medfly suppression and prevention campaigns. The sterile males mate with wild females in the field, but no offspring are produced, and the fly population is suppressed and steadily reduced over time.
The industrial production of sterile male Medflies follows a protocol for mass-rearing based on a genetic sexing strain developed through the Joint Programme of the IAEA and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and provided to the regional government of Valencia, together with the rest of the SIT package, under an ongoing Memorandum of Understanding that also included facility design and staff training.
"The role that the IAEA has played in transferring the sterile insect technique to the Generalitat Valenciana has been of fundamental importance to the adoption of this technology," said Mr. Juan Cotino Ferrer, counsellor for the Generalitat Valenciana food and agricultural authority.
The SIT facility, built at a cost of 8 million Euro, marks a strategic step forward in pest control for Spain´s agricultural community, says Mr. Jorge Hendrichs, who heads the FAO/IAEA Insect Pest Control Sub-Programme. "The plant has the capacity to produce 500-600 million sterile male Medflies, and paves the way for Spain to suppress destructive Medfly populations using a biologically based method," he says. "The investment enables Valencia´s fruit industry, which accounts for 80% of the country´s citrus exports, to stay competitive in global markets and cut down on the use of insecticides to fight Medflies."
The Medfly is a major pest affecting several key crops in Europe, notably citrus fruits. Spain ranks among the world´s top exporters of citrus fruit. Fruit bound for countries free of the Medfly - including Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the United States - is subject to expensive quarantine measures before it is cleared for export.
The Valencia SIT facility is the world´s second largest for mass-rearing Medflies. The largest is El Pino, in Guatemala, which supplies Medfly control prevention programmes in the USA, Mexico and other countries.