An IFAD project aimed at eradicating the Carambola fruit fly in Suriname and French Guiana is using satellite technology to effectively target infested areas.
The successful development of environmentally benign technologies for the control and eradication of pests often requires strong information and communication support, involving concerted action among various international stakeholders. ICTs are becoming indispensable tools in classical biological control as well as in integrated pest management (IPM) strategies aimed at bringing pest infestations down to manageable thresholds, or at total eradication. They have proven invaluable in the speedy diagnosis and confirmation of pests, in planning and designing effective responses, in the deployment of the most suitable eradication technology, and in post-campaign quarantine operations.
The Carambola fruit fly project, led by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has successfully employed both state-of-the-art communication technologies as well as traditional information exchange to eradicate this pest, which affects the livelihoods of smallholder fruit farmers throughout Suriname and French Guiana.
In the mid-1990s, the presence of the Carambola fruit fly (CFF) represented a major threat to the production and marketing of fruits and vegetables throughout tropical and subtropical Central and South America and the Caribbean. Entomologists identified 236 different species of host fruit, and surveys found that the initial spread of the CFF was linked with increased fruit cultivation and the transportation and marketing of infected material. It was also discovered that the CFF is highly mobile, and can migrate distances of more than 50 km.
Various ICTs were employed to determine the range of the pest, but the simple fax machine proved to be the most effective means of distributing information, such as survey data, bulletins, aerial photographs and maps. It was found that the fly is not constrained by natural barriers such as dense forests, or by the isolated pockets of fruit tree cultivation. In view of the steady increase in the volume of unofficial trade in fruit across countries in the region, the situation demanded an immediate response.
Central to the pest control strategy has been the male annihilation technique (MAT), which involves the use of a powerful male attractant mixed with a bioinsecticide. As male flies are attracted to the lure and are killed by the insecticide, the male population is reduced to the point where reproduction is no longer possible, eventually leading to eradication. Fibre blocks impregnated with the mixture are dispersed from ultralight aircraft equipped with a simple geographical information system (GIS)/global positioning system (GPS) unit to ensure comprehensive coverage of the infested area, which straddles several countries.
The ICT-based approach – using technologies ranging from written materials to multimedia and remote sensing – has undoubtedly contributed to the efficiency and effectiveness of the eradication programme. ICTs were also used to support a public relations campaign and an extension programme to ensure that rural communities understand and participate in the programme. Radio, TV and group video sessions were used to build the local institutional capacity, including training, environmental monitoring, and research to provide information for the development of techniques for fruit fly detection, control and eradication.
The lynchpin of the CFF campaign has been the establishment of an efficient regional organizational framework for a concerted effort to detect, monitor and eradicate the CFF. An ICT platform using modern electronic information exchange, combined with conventional knowledge networks, have been indispensable in ensuring the coordination of inputs of scientists, technicians and administrators. Although the project has been remarkably successful in reducing pest populations to zero in most infested areas, future funding is uncertain. It would be unfortunate if the effort is abandoned before the Carambola fruit fly is fully eradicated from the few remaining hot spots.
For further information on IFAD’s biocontrol programmes, visit the IFAD website.
Shantanu Mathur is coordinator of research grants at IFAD.