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Fewer Flies, More Fruit in Jordan Valley Orchards

Ahmad Abu Siam, the Supervisor of the SIT emergence facility opens the sealed pupae bag and pours the pupae into a collection container, from which small samples are collected for quality control tests. ( Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

North Shuna, Jordan — Local experts have successfully reduced damage to orchards caused by the Mediterranean fruit fly in the Jordan Valley thanks to the use of the nuclear-based sterile insect technique (SIT) — a form of birth control for flies. Over 1.5 million sterilized flies are released twice a week in the selected area of 400 hectares, leading to the suppression of the fly population. In Jordan, which has 6 000 hectares of fruit orchards, this fly species has damaged over 60% of certain fruit crops — mainly citrus, apricots and peaches — for several years.

“We are facing a serious problem and the SIT has demonstrated success in the selected area,” said Setan Al-serhan, Head of the Plant Pest Control Division at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Release of the adult sterile flies commenced in 1998 and was supervised by the IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission. The selected farm area of 400 hectares is in the northern Jordan valley where previously chemical pesticides were used to protect crops. See this video and Birth control of flies for more on SIT.

“My farm has greatly benefited from the project, my fruits are safe from these miserable flies that had previously destroyed our livelihood,” said farmer Moufaq Bashtawi. “In this area — working in high temperatures, a dry climate, are challenges but for me one big problem is solved — the new technology has removed the medfly damage and my orchard is flourishing.”

Bashtawi has seen a remarkable recovery of his citrus farm, where the release of sterilized flies has resulted in the reduction of the fly population. However, he said: “I hope we can eliminate the fruit fly completely in the Jordan valley using the SIT, so all farmers can benefit.”

Based on the success of the pilot project, the Jordanian National Authority has decided to expand the area-wide suppression of the medfly to areas north of the Jordan Valley, Al-serhan said. “By applying the SIT in the selected area, in combination with other sustainable pest control methods, the fly population has been suppressed, leading to fewer fruit losses.”

From lab to field: A pest combats a pest

The IAEA supported Jordan to establish an ‘emergence facility’ in Kraima where the sterilized pupae from neighbouring Israel are produced and received. This lab facility is used for the handling and release of sterile male flies in the select farm areas in the Jordan Valley. Over 1.5 million pupae are delivered for release above selected citrus farms.

Farmer Moufaq Bashtawi at his citrus orchard that benefitted from the implementation of the  sterile insect technology to combat the medflies. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

“The release is done twice a week,” said Ahmad Abu Siam, the Supervisor of the SIT emergence facility, adding that the “IAEA also provided all the equipment for this lab which helps us to serve our farmers to get the best possible fruits.”

At the facility, all the preparations are made to ensure that the pupae stock is ready for sterile adult emergence and release in a timely manner. This includes quality test of the pupae received, placing them in paper bags for an incubation period of six days in a holding room before the sterilized flies ‘emerge’. Once ready for release, the bags with sterile fly adults are hung on the fruit trees for ground release or released by air to interact with wild female flies.

The process

The irradiated pupae are received weekly at the Jordanian SIT emergence facility. Each bag containing about 7000 pupae is opened and poured into a collection container, from which small samples are collected for quality control tests.

The process also involves preparing the liquid food mixture of agar, water and sugar that is carefully poured in fiberglass trays to solidify. Once the agar turns solid it is cut and put in the pupae bags as feed for the sterile adult flies after they emerge. The bags are then sealed and placed in the holding room for the necessary result — the ‘birth’ of sterilized flies.

The newly emerged flies are transported early morning to pre-determined sites for release. Monitoring is conducted with the help of fly traps placed on trees to check every week how many are caught – and whether they are wild or sterile.

The IAEA project, supported by the U.S. government, was launched with Jordan, Israel and the Palestine Authority in 1998 to control the fruit fly using SIT.

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