Nuclear Technique Helps Mexico Eradicate Invasive Insect Pest Outbreak Threatening Farmers’ Livelihoods – Mexico City
The Mediterranean fruit fly or Mediterranean fly, one of the most devastating insect pests of fruits and vegetables, has been successfully eradicated in the Mexican state of Colima, as announced by Mexican authorities this week. In cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Mexico has used a nuclear technique known as the technique of sterile insect (SIT) to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly which was threatening fruit and vegetable crops, farmers’ livelihoods and the country’s economy.
The Colima outbreak, detected in April 2021 in the country’s largest port, Manzanillo, posed an immediate risk to crops such as star fruits, figs, guavas, mangoes, papayas, pink grapefruits and oranges. If not managed quickly, Mexico, the world’s seventh-largest producer and exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables, could face quarantine restrictions imposed by countries free of this pest. This could affect the country’s trade in these goods, which generates more than 189 billion Mexican pesos (8.8 billion euros) a year in exports, as well as millions of local jobs.
After receiving a request for emergency assistance in April 2021, the IAEA and FAO acted immediately, sending expert missions to help set up and evaluate eradication actions. “This is one more example where SIT has been successfully used to prevent, suppress and eradicate invasive insect pests, contributing to food safety and security worldwide,” said entomologist Walther Enkerlin Hoeflich. FAO/IAEA, regarding a technique, which is a priority activity. of IAEA assistance to Member States, through the Joint FAO/IAEA Center for Nuclear Techniques for Food and Agriculture.
Mediterranean fruit fly females can damage crops by laying eggs in ripe fruit, which impacts produce quality, rendering it unsaleable and inedible. To control the epidemic, Mexico designed and implemented an emergency action plan with the help of FAO/IAEA experts, implemented through the IAEA Technical Cooperation Program. Based on this plan, Mexico has released more than 1,450 million sterile male flies in Colima using the ecological insect pest control method SIT, which applies irradiation to sterilize the insects. After being released, these males mate with wild females that do not produce offspring, resulting in the pest population decreasing and eventually being eradicated.
“Mexico has managed to maintain its status as a country free from the Mediterranean fruit fly,” said Francisco Ramírez y Ramírez, director general of plant health at the National Service for Health, Safety and Agrifood Quality (SENASICA) of Mexico. during the event declaring the eradication of the pest in the State of Colima. “If the Mediterranean fly had taken hold in the country, the consequence would have been the closure of access to national and international markets for Mexican fruits and vegetables, which would ultimately have resulted in economic losses for local producers,” said he added.
Sterile male Mediterranean flies were produced at a newly built facility in Mexico. The facility, whose design benefited from the expertise of the IAEA, was inaugurated in 2021. It is the second largest in the world with a production capacity of 1,000 million sterile Mediterranean flies each week. The new facility, located in the state of Chiapas, focuses on the mass production of sterile insects and, together with the El Pino facility in Guatemala, helps maintain the containment barrier that prevents the introduction and spread of the pest to northern Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.
The IAEA will continue to assist and collaborate with Mexico through national and regional technical cooperation projects, and through Mexican National Fruit Fly Program (PNMF), an IAEA Collaborating Center.