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January 06, 2012

ICIPE to strengthen fight against fruit fly to boost Kenya mango exports

International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) has imported a wasp from Hawaii to help mango farmers at the Coast fight fruit flies. The biggest threat to mango production in Africa is the pest, also known as Fopius Arisanus, Icipe Africa fruit fly programme leader Dr Sunday Ekesi said.

Kenya’s mango exports have been locked out of lucrative global markets such as South Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Japan and US after being infested by the fly. Yield loss on mangoes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda due to the fruit fly ranges between 30 and 70 per cent depending on the locality, season, and variety of the fruit, he said. A recent study funded by Agricultural Business Development indicated that more than 80,000 households at the Coast engage in mango production with an estimated one million people earning their livelihood from the sector.

“There are more than 18,000 hectares with 1.3 million trees under cultivation,” said Mr Gachanja Githende, a researcher in a past interview. He said the industry is valued at Sh260 million per year. According to Dr Ekesi, Kenya has been grappling with the problem of the mango fruit fly since 2003 when the pest reportedly came along with imported commodities from Sri Lanka. It has since become the single biggest threat to the mango and avocado sub-sectors in the country. “Presence of any trace of the mango fruit fly can lead to the destruction of an entire consignment at the exporters’ costs,” Dr Ekesi said, adding that the pest is also found in 28 other African countries. He said Kenya has since 2008 been losing $2 million (Sh180 million) annually for not exporting avocados to just a single market. “When they fly found its way into Kenya, there was no accompanying natural enemy to contain its multiplication as happens in Sri Lanka,” Dr Ekesi said.

In Sri Lanka, there are two types of insects that feed on the eggs and larvae of the mango fruit fly, keeping the level of damage at a manageable level, says the scientist. However, earlier efforts to import the two insects from Sri Lanka were not successful due to hurdles in exchange of biodiversity such as what Kenya was to offer in return, Dr Ekesi said. This took Icipe scientists to Hawaii in US, which first experienced the mango fruit fly problem in 1940s and imported natural enemies from Asia that they today use to contain the menace. The wasp only needs to be introduced once after, which it breeds and increase its population, so long as they are not killed by pesticides. The wasp was introduced in Kilifi and Malindi last month after trials were conducted in Magadi. Used together with other methods, the pest control will achieve over 90 per cent results, Mr Ekesi said.

Kenya Technical Standing Committee on Import and Export of biological material has already approved the introduction of the insects for commercial use, says Ekesi. After North Coast, the insects will be introduced in South Coast and Eastern province. The trials have established that the pest is effective in controlling mango fruit fry and it does harm other useful organisms, Ekesi said. The Icipe project, which is funded by GIZ of Germany and Biovision, a Swiss Ngo to a tune of 1.5 million euros covers Tanzania, Uganda, Benin, Cameroon and Senegal, Mr Ekesi said.
Market analysts see this development as a major breakthrough for a sector that has not been able to generate sustainable revenues to farmers due to marketing challenges. Projects of value addition have already been started in Hola, where the Coast Development Authority is constructing the first major mango processing plant.
From the survey findings carried out by Institution Development and Management (IDM) Services recently on mango sub sector in the Coast Region, it supports over 80,000 farm families. Information from the survey shows that the population of trees stands over 1.3 million.

Taking all products into consideration, the value of the mango sub-sector at the farm gate level is estimated to be Sh2.6 billion annually, the study said. Dynamics in the mango sub-sector show that there is a general rise in the population of trees exemplified by the number of new entrants in mango farming and the number of trees in the 0 - 3 years category, 178,391, representing 13.3 per cent of the total population. “ It is also evident that the mango sub sector has the potential to drive a substantial proportion of the agricultural economy in the Coast region as 78 per cent of all the trees fall in the productive category,” Gachanja Githende a managing partner of IDM.

Business Daily Africa

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