Sunday, January 24, 2021

Agriculture Ministry starts and abandons fruit fly control

The Ministry of Agriculture, it is alleged, has since stopped controlling fruit fly in the country for unknown reasons. There are fears the laxity of the Ministry has driven the fruit fly to invade the wildlife ecosystem in the Chobe and Pandamatenga areas, affecting over 80 wild plant species which wildlife feeds on.

There are fears that the fruit fly┬ámay eventually cause extensive damage to the wildfruit plant species,┬áleading to migration of┬ágame┬áand harm to tourism – the country’s second largest foreign income earner after diamonds.

The Minister of Wildlife, Environment and Tourism Kitso Mokaila, said he was unaware of the alleged invasion of wild plant species by fruit fly and referred this publication to government officials who have not responded to a written enquiry for weeks.

According to independent expert sources, a number of wild fruits are affected, including morula.┬áThe fruit fly invasion happens under the very noses of some officials at the┬áMinistry of Agriculture (names withheld) who were trained in fruit fly identifications, management among others in Nairobi – sponsored by United States Agency for International Development. (USAID).

There was no immediate comment from the Ministry of Agriculture.

The ministy’s officials are supposed to drive the fruit fly programme in Botswana but this has not been the case due to what are considered trade sensitivities it is alleged.

“We set up surveillance programmes in various SADC [Southern African Development Community] and other countries, including Botswana. We provided traps and lures upon request and also formal training and on-site training in trap deployment and procedures. We also provided technical assistance and backup – including identifications – on an ongoing basis that was always available to Botswana – free of charge,” said a frustrated source once closer to the fruit fly control programme in Botswana.

Scientists also initiated the first surveillance trip with the two officials in question to show them how to set up trap stations and all associated protocols. “They [Ministry officials] were pleased and worked very well for a while and then ceased for reasons unknown to me,” according to sources.

Sources say they are dismayed at the less eagerness of governments in the region in controlling fruit fly.

“I am unable to take sides with anyone, as we act in a purely technical capacity. We are currently trying to establish a SADC fruit fly programme through Trademark but, again, this is fraught with difficulty and negotiations are at a very sensitive stage. If we were to upset anyone in the SADC Ministries, it could mean the end of this initiative- which is really the only way forward,” said one scientist in a communication to local farmers seen by The Telegraph.

Scientists say they have had a similar experience with Namibia. “They have also cut us dead, and even went as far as firing one of their senior personnel because of B. Invadens (fruit fly) sensitivities “As a scientist I find all of this incredibly petty and short-sighted. When the fly was detected in SA [South Africa] – I identified it on a Friday afternoon and by Monday it had been reported to IPPC and trading partners. This is the professional way to go, and not to try to hide detections” said the source.

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