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Argentina’s Newly Recognized Fruit Fly Free Areas Expedite Fresh Fruit Exports to China

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Regional projects: RLA 5070 and RLA 5082

With the help of nuclear techniques, areas in Argentina growing stone and pome fruits for export have been recognized by China as fruit fly free. (Photo: E. Rial, Los Antiguos)

In what is expected to be a major boost to Argentina’s niche fruit exports, areas growing cherries and other stone and pome fruits have been recognized as fruit fly free by China, enabling exports to the world’s largest fresh food market. The result was achieved with the help of nuclear techniques – thanks to the support of the IAEA in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

“This represents a major opportunity for all fruit growers and exporters in Argentina who seek to position themselves in the Chinese market, with special interest in the cherries that could be dispatched directly by air, reducing costs and time,” said Carlos Paz, President of the National Plant Protection Organization of Argentina (SENASA). Similar recognition by the U.S. and Chile is already in place. This means that costly and time-consuming postharvest treatments for fresh fruit is no longer required for export.

In the 2019/2020 growing season, Argentina exported 5,600 tonnes of cherries, representing US$ 27.2 million in revenue. Exports to China accounted for a third of this, according to Anibal Caminiti, Executive Manager of the Integrated Producers of Argentinean Cherries Association (CAPCI). 

The pest free status for these new areas is the result of the long-term effective work of SENASA through the National Fruit Fly Control and Eradication Programme (PROCEM) in cooperation with the fruit producers. The cooperation with the IAEA, under the technical cooperation programme, included technology transfer to support the application of the sterile insect technique (SIT).

“This is one example of how the IAEA technical cooperation programme assists countries by transferring nuclear technology to generate positive impact in many relevant areas, setting an impulse for the development of a more resilient and sustainable economy, while protecting the people and the environment,” said Luis Longoria Gandara, Director of the Technical Cooperation Division for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Programmes to manage the Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) in Argentina began in the 1990s, in the Patagonia Region and the North, Central and South Oasis in Mendoza Province. Expert missions, training and technology transfer enabled the development and implementation of area-wide integrated pest management with SIT as a component. This in turn led to the establishment of fruit fly free areas and reduction of postharvest treatments. Postharvest treatments, often a requirement of the importing country, are a way to minimize the occurrence of pests and are an additional step and cost after harvesting. By using the SIT, the need for postharvest treatments is diminished. The SIT uses irradiation to sterilize mass-reared male insects so that they cannot produce offspring, resulting in reduced pest population over time.

Complementary control measures to the twice-weekly release of sterile Mediterranean fruit flies to protect the pest free status, include the use of low environment impact insecticide-baits and removal of fruit from areas that present a high risk for fruit fly introduction due to the movement of people and merchandise. As a final step to ensure that the areas remain fruit fly free, quarantine checkpoints are set up to inspect all private and cargo vehicles which enter the protected areas.

The Customs General Directorate of the People’s Republic of China performed three technical visits in 2018 and 2019 to verify the phytosanitary status of the areas. The occurrence of pests in the area has to be zero for the area to be considered fruit fly free. It was established that the Patagonia Region and the Central and South Oasis in Mendoza Province met the necessary requirements to qualify as fruit fly free areas, and that the postharvest treatment, used to prevent pest problems, was not necessary anymore. This means that once harvested and inspected, the fruits can be exported.

But the newly acquired recognition and the fruit fly free status also has to be actively maintained. A surveillance network of 4,740 traps for fruit flies has been set up to screen for C. capitata, Anastrepha fraterculus (South American Fruit Fly)  – a species present in the central and northern areas of the country – and other non-native fruit fly species. Fruit samples are also collected and inspected in the fields, in small and large markets and at designated quarantine checkpoints along the fruits route to market.

“Installing an extensive trapping network is a requirement of the importer, to be able to monitor the pest status of these areas,” said Walther R. Enkerlin Hoeflich, entomologist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. “Traps must catch no flies and if there is a catch there must be an emergency response to eradicate the outbreak.”  

Now that these areas are recognized as pest free through the use of the SIT and complementary control measures, the export of stone and pome fruits are expedited. “With about 2, 000 hectares used for cherry production located in the recognized fruit fly free area of Patagonia Region and the Central and South Oasis in Mendoza Province, this certification is crucial for the success of this industry,” said Caminiti, as Argentina’s niche fruit export market looks set to boom in the world’s largest fresh food market, China.

The fruit fly free certification means once harvested and inspected, the fruits can be exported without requiring further postharvest treatment. (Photo: F. Lepron, Valle Medio)

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