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Argentina rids crops of fruit flies, cutting costs

With UN help, Argentina rids crops of fruit flies, cutting export costs

Two United Nations agencies – one dealing with atomic energy and another with agriculture – have teamed up to help Argentina rid key crops of fruit flies, paving the way for expanded exports to the United States.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today reported that US authorities have officially recognized Argentina’s Patagonia region as a fruit fly-free area.

With this step, which culminates 10 years of IAEA and FAO technical backstopping to help sterilize the pests, Argentina can now export apples, pears and other agricultural goods to the US without any quarantine requirements.

Authorities in the South American country estimate the savings will be $2 million annually. Expensive quarantine treatments will no longer be needed for most of the 3 million boxes of pears and apples that Patagonia also exports to many other regions in the world, the IAEA and FAO said.

The agencies predict that Argentina will now expand its cultivation and export of more crops, particularly “stone fruits” such as cherries.

The progress comes thanks to a biological pest management technique involving sterilization. Supported by FAO and IAEA, the effort requires breeding huge quantities of target insects in a factory and sterilizing the males by exposing them to low doses of radiation. These sterile male flies are released by air over infested areas, where they mate with wild females that then produce no offspring, leading to a gradual elimination of the pest.

Argentina now plans to initiate a similar programme in the country’s main citrus producing provinces, Entre Ríos and Corrientes, located in the northeast.

The IAEA and FAO said the sterilization technique has also been used previously in Argentina’s Mendoza and San Juan provinces. It has also successfully tackled the Mediterranean Fruit Fly in Chile, Mexico and California, and the New World Screw Worm in Libya and Central America.

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