Icipe’s new drug offers fresh hope to fruit farmers

Friday June 2 2017

International Centre of Insect Physiology and

International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) Interim director of research Dr Sunday Ekesi explains the process of making Fruit Fly protein bait for mango at the opening of its processing plant at Makuyu in Murang’a on March 29, 2017. PHOTO FILE| NATION  

By KENNEDY SENELWA

Kenya has started commercial production of an ecologically friendly protein bait to clear pests that attack fruits and vegetables.
The toxicant-laced bait, produced at a $250,000 public-private partnership facility at the Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) in conjunction with Kenya Biologics based at Makuyu, kills fruit flies.

The Fruitfly Mania protein bait was developed by Icipe because Kenya loses $550 million a year due to the flies eating into vegetables, mangoes, pears and other fruits.
Fruitfly Mania retails at about $2.5 a dose some 70 per cent lower than the cost of similar products. The Makuyu facility has a daily output of 2,000 litres to try and meet demand from over 229,000 households relying on mango production.

An additional 400,000 mango growers in the region will benefit from Fruitfly Mania once the product is registered in Uganda and Tanzania. Local bait contains ecology-friendly toxicants laced with proteins that attract fruit flies.

Export losses
ICIPE interim director of research Dr Sunday Ekesi said millions of livelihoods are affected by damage to produce and loss of market opportunities as fruit fly infestation leads to rejection of horticultural crops by buyers. “Certain proteins are used in bait sprays laced with a toxin that kills female fruit flies. The poison is, however, not harmful to people, domestic animals or the environment,” Dr Ekesi told The EastAfrican.

Female fruit flies feed on produce such as mangoes and thereby lower the quality. Essentially, the flies lay eggs inside the fruit and once the maggots hatch inside the ripening fruit, it begins to rot from within and soon drops to the ground inedible and unsalable.

Government support

ICIPE has for 20 years researched pest management with technical and financial support provided by the Kenya government, Germany, Britain and the Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development.
“This outcome will improve the health of people, animals and the environment, and increase competitiveness of fruits from Africa,” said Icipe director general Dr Segenet Kelemu.

She said the aim is to reduce yield losses and expenses incurred by farmers buying synthetic pesticides to contribute to reducing the health and environmental risks associated with the misuse of chemicals.

Smallholder farmers rely on synthetic insecticides that are ineffective as the pests eventually become resistant. Synthetic pesticides eliminate natural enemies that could biologically control a percentage of pests.