Project tackles fruit flies menace, boosting yields and income

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A mango farmer from Zimbabwe, Mrs Pelagia Musingwini, showing the kind of traps she has been using to control fruit flies in her farm. Inside the trap is the attractant for fruit flies mango @Busani Bafana
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Decades ago, when food and cash crops would fail, mango would come to the rescue. This ‘golden fruit’ was a source of food, nutrition and income.

But the crop has been under threat of fruit flies that lead to the loss of up to eight out of 10 mangoes in any harvest.

To address the adverse effects of the flies, the Alien Invasive Fruit Flies project in Southern Africa, supported by the International Development Research Centre and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, has come up with five technologies as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) package. Implemented in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the technologies include baiting, which involves using a poisoned protein bait that, when eaten, kills the flies. Another method uses mating attractant chemicals; the flies are drawn inside a plastic container with the attractants where they are then trapped and die.

Natural enemies of the fruit flies or so-called ‘farmers friends’ are also being used. These enemies, which include parasitoids (small insects), work like witchcraft; they lay their eggs in the body of fruit flies and as the eggs mature and adults emerge, the process kills the flies. An added benefit is that these species spread and perpetuate on their own, controlling fruit fly populations across a wide area – not just at the farm where they were targeted. Another IPM approach is farm cleanliness. Farmers are encouraged to gather up infested mangoes and bury them, or place them in a special tent-like structure called an augmentorium. Once inside the tent, the fruit flies are unable to escape, and die.

The final technology involves sun-drying baskets and aims at processing and preserving non-infested mangoes to provide farmers with a source of food in the dry season, and another source of income. The mangoes are cut and placed in the baskets to dry in the sun, where they take up to half a day to dry on warm days. The dried mango can be preserved for over one year, provided they are stored in a dry place.

IPM impacts

The use of these technologies has saved seven out of 10 harvested mangoes. This is really phenomenal. And, with these innovations, farmers – particularly women – are increasing their mango income and household nutrition, and are able to diversify their farms. “In the second year of implementing the fruit fly IPM package, we managed to sell clean mangoes in bulk to traders. With the proceeds, I managed to buy maize seed for cultivation as well,” explains Emily Chakanyuka from Murewa in Zimbabwe.

In Malawi, a group of women have come together to pool their mango income and open a bank account. This gives them more power over their income and they are able to lend to their friends with added interest to increase their savings. Elestina Masamba, a member of this group, has managed to buy two pigs and hopes to multiply them to sell and provide meat for her family.