Saturday, June 19, 2021

Botswana’s agric production dwindles as fruit fly wreaks havoc

The Director of Crop Production, Galeitsiwe Ramokapane says fruit flies are amongst the most destructive insect pests in the country; and are negating government’s efforts to improve food production in the agriculture sector.
Speaking in Francistown during a Crop Production Workshop hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture last week, Ramokapane said the fruit fly has affected the whole country as farmers are not able to export their produce due to strong quarantine regulations imposed by importing countries.
“Its presence has resulted in decline in food production of their host crops as farmers shift to non host crops. This thwarts government’s efforts to improve fruit and vegetable production in the country so as to reduce heavy reliance on imports,” he said.
He added that the adversity has affected the agriculture sector despite the fact that government has embarked on a number of initiatives aimed at improving food production; among them the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) which assists all subsistence and commercial farmers and financial institutions such as National Development Bank and CEDA.
“The horticultural industry is very important as it helps diversify the economy, create employment opportunities, poverty reduction and leading to attainment of food security,” Ramokapane added.
Touching on the brief background of the fruit fly, he said Botswana first began its national detection surveys of fruit flies in 2007 in order to update fruit fly pest list and to detect any fruit fly species of quarantine importance. He said in February 2010, the fruit fly was detected in Chobe District in the Northern Botswana. In July 2012 another outbreak was recorded in Tuli Block which is in the Central District of Botswana. The area shares the borders with Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“However despite our control effort in Chobe, in May 2013 the pest was also detected in the North East District,” he said.
Ramokapane said in view of proximity of the areas threatened with the pest, an agreement was made by Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe to jointly make a project memoranda to request for funding from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to control the pest. Due to the nature of the pest, no control measure can be carried out effectively in isolation hence the collaboration with other countries.
“The government appreciates the efforts by FAO for providing funds to a tune of P1.7 million to control the pest in the affected areas to purchase fruit fly management materials,” he added.
He said one of the species of the fruit flies (Bactorocera dorsalis) is a relatively new pest in Botswana and the SADC region. Worse, it has a wide range of both cultivated and wild hosts. Among the cultivated hosts are mango fruits while wild hosts include the morula fruit. Most of the horticultural farmers in Tuli Block and North East District grow fruit host crops. There are also plenty morula trees in the forest which are hosts to these pests.
“Farmers experience huge financial losses in a bid to control these fruit flies. Fruits damaged by the fruit fly are of low quality and this reduces their market value. Farmers in the affected areas also experience yield losses which can be 90 to 100 percent as a result of fruit infestation by the pests,” he said.
On a positive note, Ramokapane lauded government for making sure that both farmers and government staff have been capacitated on fruit fly management techniques. He said in addition to the training provided, the public has been made aware of the devastating effects of fruit flies through Kgotla meetings and road campaigns to sensitize travelers and other road users on what is expected from them as an effort to share information on the pest. Ramokapane also lauded the Kenyan government for playing a pivotal role in providing the Botswana government with technical backstopping experts for this project during its implementation especially in areas of trainers and laboratory improvement for easy pest identification.
“As a way forward the Ministry of Agriculture would like to encourage all parties involved in production of fruit fly hosts to adopt integrated pest management strategies as one method cannot manage to suppress the pest. These includes Sterile Insect Technique(SIT), Biological Control, field sanitation, baits and timely chemical sprays techniques to minimize the  impact of fruit flies on fruit production,” he said
He also revealed that two officers have since been sent to Mauritius to benchmark on the use of Sterile Insect Techniques (STI) as an integrated pest control in Botswana.
The objective of the workshop was to bring together stakeholders, discuss and provide effective recommendation that government can adopt for the future and sustainability of the fruit fly management in Botswana.

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