BY RACHEL KIBUI
June 30, 2016, Nairobi. On a chilly morning in at Kabarak village, Elgeyo Marakwet County, Francis Kiplagat scouts across his vast 50-acres mango farm.
He has here about six mango varieties which flower at different times, meaning he has something for sale almost throughout the year.
A very vital part of his routine scouting is checking out for fruit flies which had for years caused him losses.
But, it is a different story for this farmer as well as his neighbours after introduction of pheromone traps.
The fruit flies eradication project in Elgeiyo Marakwet County is a joint effort by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (KEPHIS) and the European Union (EU)
Under a project dubbed Standards and Market Access Program (SMAP) the EU, through United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and KEPHIS, has been making efforts to eradicate fruit flies in this area.
The efforts are aimed at ensuring that this county and with time, the whole of Kenya, gets access to expand not only the local market, but also internationally, especially the EU.
As he scouts, Kiplagat, who is popularly known here as (mzee wa maembe-the man who grows mangoes), checks his pheromone traps for any catch of fruit flies. He smiles in hopes of soon securing a new market at the EU.
Interestingly, he seems to barely get any fly for this week. This is unlike about one year ago, when the trapping containers would be full in three days.
Commonly known as dudu locally, Fruit flies have been a menace in this and other mango-growing areas causing hefty losses.
But, the joint efforts towards creating fruit fly free area started in 2014 during a farmers seminar when one of the farmers brought six mango fruits and challenged KEPHIS officials to try if they could be exported.
“When we tried to access the international market, the mangoes were intercepted due to fruit flies infestation,” recalls Alfred Musuya, KEPHIS Kitale Region manager.
This was a wake up call for partners to come to the rescue of mango farmers in the region in a bid to enhance compliance to standards and thus, market access.
The pheromone trap is an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) method of eradicating fruit flies.
It works by using lacing cotton wool with chemicals that have the female-fruit fly-like scent, which attracts the male flies which fly into the container and are trapped.
“When I introduced the traps in my farm one year ago, I would get over 600 fruit flies trapped every week,” says Magrina Michir, a mango farmer from Tot, adding, “But I currently get 0-3 trapped pests over the same period of time.
As the fruit flies count reduces, the farmers’ harvest and earnings are rising sharply. They confess to be smiling all the way to the bank.
“Before I started using the pheromone traps, I used to earn about Sh30,000 annually from my farm,” says Magrina, adding that the income has since doubled.
“I used to harvest 12-15 fruits per tree but this is no longer the case as we are now harvesting 400-500 fruits in a single season,” says Kiplagat
The traps are hanged on mango trees with each acre taking between 4-7of them, according to Musuya.
In a bid to create fruit fly free areas, Kephis has created three core areas in the county including Sambalach, Koimur and Kabarak.
The core areas are selected farms. Then, a buffer zone is created which is basically ensuring that ten surrounding farms are also provided with the traps. The buffer zone covers a radius of between 2-3 kilometers.
“This ensures that the pests will not move from surrounding farms to the core area, beside cleaning a bigger area,” says Musunga
Besides using the trap, farmers are required to observe high sanitation levels in the orchards, and destruction of fallen fruits which harbor the pest.
In a bid to support mango farmers in this region, the county government had been selling hybrid seedlings and pheromone traps at subsided prices.
“We sell the seedlings at Sh100 while other people sell at Sh150,” says Shadrack Yatich, the County Executive in charge of Agriculture Department.