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Waging a War Against Insect Pests Innovative and Environmentally-Friendly Solutions for Effective Pest Management


Recent advances and the potential for applying innovative and more environmentally-friendly methods to manage these key insect pests were the focus of an International Conference, organized by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division, in cooperation with the University Sains Malaysia, in Penang, Malaysia, last week. The Conference brought together 280 experts, including some of the world's best and most knowledgeable pest control scientists, animal and plant protection specialists, and representatives of regulatory authorities and the private sector from over 70 countries and six international organizations.

Major progress was reported in the development of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) and its successful large scale application in eliminating insect pests such as the fruit fly in parts of Latin America, Japan, USA and Australia, the screwworm from North and Central America and parts of North Africa and most recently the tsetse fly from Zanzibar island, Tanzania. The Agency's Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, has played a leading role in developing SIT. Insects are mass-reared in large factories, and males are sterilized by low doses of gamma-radiation, before being released by air over large target areas, thus substantially reducing fertile mating.

The experts also agreed that "an area-wide approach to pest control, in which the entire population of a pest in an area or region is managed in a coordinated way, often across political boundaries, is considerably more effective and economical than uncoordinated field-by-field, or orchard-by-orchard control measures now practiced by a majority of growers who rely on pesticide applications. It also contributes to alleviating environmental concerns". The area-wide concept of pest control is central to the effective application of SIT, the most environmentally-friendly pest control and eradication method available, as experts at the Conference agreed.

"Africa can only be freed of the dreaded tsetse fly by an area-wide approach integrating SIT with other environment-friendly methods, and in a concerted effort with long-term political commitments of the countries concerned" was the consensus of participants from 16 African countries. Tsetse flies, which transmit blood parasites causing sleeping sickness in humans and "nagana" a debilitating disease in livestock, are responsible for unproductive agricultural systems in almost 11 million km2 of sub-Saharan Africa. New advances in mass-rearing tsetse flies achieved at the Agency's Seibersdorf Laboratory have reduced costs of fly production to a tenth, making the large scale use of SIT on mainland Africa a reality. These new methodologies will be applied in a large eradication campaign to free the Southern Rift Valley in Ethiopia of tsetse.

"Fruitflies are among the economically most harmful insects, severely hindering world trade in agricultural products. The Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly), for example, attacks over 250 species of fruit and vegetables in many parts of the world" the experts stated. So great is the potential damage that many countries impose strict trade barriers and prohibit import of fresh, potentially infested produce from endemic countries. However, research & development in SIT technologies for area-wide medfly control and eradication is among the most advanced in insect pest management. IAEA and FAO have supported successful SIT projects in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Portugal.

Moths are also among major pests damaging food and fibre crops, forests and stored products throughout the world. Several species have developed resistance to even high doses of insecticides. SIT programs that successfully have overcome pesticide-related problems, have been operated to control the cotton pink bollworm in California and, most recently, the codling moth of apples in British Columbia, Canada. "The area-wide use of this technology, alone or in combination with other biocontrol methods, is an economically and environmentally attractive alternative with a considerable potential for controlling major pest moths", concluded the Conference participants.

The "FAO/IAEA International Conference on Area-Wide Control of Insect Pests Integrating the Sterile Insect and Related Nuclear and other Techniques" (Malaysia, 28 May to 2 June) also addressed new developments in biotechnology, genetics and molecular biology related to insect pests.

Insect and Pest Control Section
Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture
P.O. Box 100, A-1400 Vienna, Austria
phone: +43 1 2060, Ext. 21628, 21629
e-mail: j.hendrichs@iaea.org, u.feldmann@iaea.org

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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