Mango farmers in Kerio Valley are exploring ways to control pests using biological methods. This way, the fresh produce will stand a higher chance of gaining entry into the lucrative European Union (EU) markets.
A team of Kenyan university graduates who recently completed a one-year training in Israel are empowering locals with knowledge on biological methods Israeli mango farmers use to tame destructive fruit flies.
“In Israel, farmers use sterile male fly to mate with females and so if they invade the mangoes, the female would lay infertile eggs. This would in turn not harm the fruits and ultimately reduce the pests. Because of this method of pest control, fruits from Israel are easily accepted in EU markets since they use minimal chemicals,” says Kennedy Wafula, one of the researchers spearheading the project.
The students are working in partnership with the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA).
Mr Wafula says they are teaching farmers how to use fly traps to ensnare and suffocate male fruit flies.
Already, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) and Smart Market Assessment Programme (SMAP) through EU funding have set up fruits fly traps in several farms in Kerio Valley. One such farm is owned by Mr Francis Kiplagat, a large scale mango farmer with more than 60 acres under mangoes.
“It has not always been like this. Before, customers who came to my farm noticed that my mango fruits were attractive from the outside but had insects and were rotten inside,” Kiplagat says. He recalls a season where he lost 80 per cent of his produce before he realised there was an insect-fruit fly causing the havoc.
“We sprayed with all sorts of chemicals to wipe the flies in vain. My mangoes were rejected in most markets because of this,” he recalls.
But when he set up the traps, he noticed a remarkable difference within a week.
“Within that short time, the trap had captured hundreds of pests,” he says.
The EU, which offers ready markers for more than 80 per cent of Kenya’s fruits and other horticultural products, imposed a ban on use of a pesticide known as Dimethoate which most local farmersrelied on. KVDA Managing Director David Kimosop says fruit flies have been a concern to many countries because they cause serious damage and restrict access to international markets.
“The success of the fruit fly traps in the pilot project is an indicator mango growing areas in this county will be declared pest free and their produce will be accepted in lucrative export markets,” says the MD.
The trap is basically a jar-like container with a lid and punched holes on the sides to allow entry of insects and is laced with a pheromone- a chemical. The pheromone attracts males within a radius of a kilometre. They rush to the trap thinking they are heading to females for mating, but immediately die after getting into the jar.
Elgeyo Marakwet has more than 5,000 hectares of land under mango plantations with an estimated production of 75,000 tonnes per season.