Mauritius Inaugurates New Facility to Use Nuclear Technology to Fight Agricultural Pests

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has helped Mauritius take an important step in the suppression of agricultural pests with the inauguration of a new facility to apply a nuclear technique to fight insects that cause annual losses of around US $6 million to farmers.

The facility will help the Indian Ocean island apply the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to combat pests that attack fruit and vegetable crops such as mango, peach and cucumbers. The technique works by mass-rearing fruit fly insects and then using radiation to sterilize the males. These are then released in cultivated fields at weekly intervals, with the goal of significantly reducing their wild population.

“With the capacity to produce 15 million sterile flies per week, the two-storey facility will support Mauritius and the region in the suppression of key agricultural pests,” said Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the IAEA Division for Africa.

The facility will initially focus on the mass-production of three fruit fly species that cause the most economic harm to the island: the oriental fruit fly, the peach fruit fly and the melon fly. These insects lay eggs under the skin of the fruit or vegetable, which develop into larvae that destroy harvests. The oriental- and peach fruit flies attack mango, guava, citrus and peach, among others, while the melon fly attacks cucurbits, such as melon, pumpkin, squash, and cucumber. Cucurbits alone account for about 30 percent of cultivated areas in Mauritius, and the melon fly causes damage to around 30 per cent of such crops per year.

TheSIT is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly technique used in countries across the world to suppress insect pests, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly and the tsetse flies,” said Preeaduth Sookar, Principal Scientific Officer at the Entomology Division of the Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security. “The facility will help Mauritius protect its agricultural industry, which is increasingly at risk of damage from invasive fruit flies.”

The inauguration on 22 August of the facility in Reduit, south of the capital Port Louis, builds on a previous IAEA effort to help the country address several invasive fruit flies. Through its Joint FAO/IAEA Division and its Technical Cooperation Programme, the Agency provided advice to Mauritius in the design and construction of the facility, and helped the country procure and install a Cobalt-60 irradiator to sterilize flies.

The application of the SIT will be integrated with other fruit fly suppression methods in the country, such as bait application techniques, trapping and sanitation measures. The combined methods have already produced good results, reducing melon fly infestations in cucurbits from 30 to 5 per cent from 2008 to 2014.

The new facility will also host training for SIT technicians from neighbouring Indian Ocean and mainland Africa countries. In addition, it can supply sterile flies for small pilot projects in the region. The facility in Mauritius is one of 24 such mass-rearing facilities to apply SIT against fruit flies around the world, and the second in Southern Africa.