There is only one thing worse than being pestered by a hoard of fruit flies while biting into a juicy, ripe mango and that is having the fruit flies get at the mango first. Nutritious fruit worth more than $3 million US dollars is destroyed by the pesky little flies every year in Senegal alone. That makes the fruit more costly for consumers and hurts producers who risk losing valuable export markets.
“If you can’t sell more than half your crop, you have to charge more to recover your production costs. But the market is very competitive. Fruit flies may price West African farmers out of the world mango market,” says Dr. Yacouba Diallo, a business development specialist with knowledge about mangoes in West Africa.
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Fruit flies have been around for a long time but a new and more dangerous variant, first detected in East Africa in 2003, has spread to West Africa. Without control, these new flies can destroy more than three-quarters of fruit crops like mangoes. Chemical spraying is not efficient for these insects in West Africa because of the broad spectrum of its host plants in the same environment and also when they change from caterpillar to fly, they can remain dormant for long periods during dry times, sheltered in their underground cocoons from sprays, a sort of insect air-raid shelter.
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This is very bad news for farmers hoping to export mangoes to Europe. Even a hint of a fruit fly on a single mango results in destruction of the entire shipment. This is part of strict phytosanitary procedures designed to inhibit the spread of fruit flies into the continent.
CORAF, with funding from the European Union, the French Agency for Development, WAEMU and ECOWAS, is researching a suite of complementary technologies that when used in harmony can reduce the impact of the destructive flies.
Strict phytosanitary procedures imposed by European markets mean even a hint of a fruit fly on a single mango result in the destruction of the entire shipment. Photo credit/Alassane Dia, CORAF
The overall technique is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and it combines cultural practices such as burying infected fruit to kill the maggots with more modern, environment-friendly, botanical insecticides, insect traps, and introducing natural enemies such as parasitoids, weaver ants that can help manage the unwanted pests. But one recipe will not work for all parts of the region. Dry areas may need one combination whereas the more humid, tropical areas another. That is what the new research has set out to determine, so that small scale fruit farmers will be able to use the most effective combinations of management practices for their situations.
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“The results of our research, when applied in farmers fields will not only be good for farmers but also will be good for consumers, good for the nutrition of children, good for market vendors, and good for national export markets,” says Dr. Mame Farma Ndiaye Cisse, the project coordinator.
The current project will run through 2019.