Nuclear technique helps eradicate insect pests in the Dominican Republic

The first Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak in the Dominican Republic was reported in March 2015 in the vicinity of the popular tourist city of Punta Cana and quickly spread to a 2,000 square kilometre area in the eastern region of the country. Despite being 200 kilometres away from the production areas, several major trading partners, such as the United States of America, Haiti, and Japan, enacted an import ban with immediate effect affecting various agricultural products, such as avocado, citrus fruits, papaya, and peppers. This ban led to losses in fruit and vegetable exports estimated at USD 42 million in 2015 alone and put thousands of jobs at risk.

The Mediterranean fruit fly pest is one of the world's most damaging pests in the agricultural sector as it attacks several varieties of fruit and vegetables and spreads at great speed. Considering that a female fly can lay more than 300 eggs, in a country the size of the Dominican Republic, six months is enough for a population to become established.

The Dominican Republic is supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the International Regional Organization for Plant and Animal Health, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Mediterranean Fruit Fly Programme, a joint initiative of Guatemala, Mexico and the United States of America.

The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) was used to control insect births by using radiation to sterilise large numbers of male insects, which were then released to mate with wild females. Since the females did not produce offspring, the insect population was eventually suppressed or eliminated.

The IAEA provided assistance, through its technical cooperation programme, to adapt a facility in the town of Higüey to house the sterile male flies brought from El Pino, Guatemala. Since October 2015, more than 4 billion sterile flies have been released in the affected areas. The IAEA, together with FAO and USDA, also trained local staff in setting up surveillance systems throughout the country to trap and identify the flies, as well as in complementary pest control methods such as tree pruning, destruction of fruit that may be potential hosts and targeted use of pesticides.

The Dominican Republic eradicated the Mediterranean fruit fly pest in 2019.

SIT is an environmentally friendly and effective method to suppress or eradicate specific insect populations, and is particularly effective in areas that are difficult to reach with other pest control methods, such as mass trapping and insecticide application. The method is routinely used in countries such as the United States of America to contain damaging insects such as Mediterranean fruit flies and screwworm flies.

Source: IAEA
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