Farmers who grow mangoes have always considered the fruit to be a source of revenue when food is scarce. However, in recent years, many farmers have seen an increase in rotten mangoes and lost revenue caused by fruit flies. If not addressed consumption of fruit fly infested mangoes can be a health hazard to all and a drain on the health budget. CHARLES MKOKA has been following this participatory research to battle the deadly flies.
Isaac Manase is one farmer who has incurred huge losses due to rotting mangoes. “We didn’t know what was causing the rot,” he lamented. “Most of the ripe fruit were going bad even before consumption. They couldn’t even be taken to the market for sale.”
Mango is one of the most important fruits in Malawi. It is a source of income and nutrition for many smallholder farmers. Women and youth are the main beneficiaries as they are involved in the harvesting, and sale, of fresh mangoes from their homes, by the roadsides and at small markets. Despite the social and economic importance of the fruit, its production and utilization is constrained by various factors, chief among them, insect pests such as fruit flies.
Fruit fly the culprit
Fruit flies lay eggs in fruit, which hatch into tiny white maggots. The maggots burrow inside the fruit causing rotting and fruit fall. In this way, damaged fruit become inedible and unmarketable, thus resulting in loss of both food and income at household level and along the mango value chain. The direct damage and the resulting quarantine restrictions imposed by importing countries are estimated to have cost Africa more than US$2 billion in annual foreign currency earnings.
In a bid to address the widespread mango losses as a result of fruit flies, Malawi's Department of Agriculture Research Services at Bvumbwe station, with support from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), and financial support from the Canadian International Development Research Centre and the Australian International Food Security Research Centre, are working with farmers in Ntchewu and Lilongwe districts to contain the devastating effects of these pests.
Donald Kachigamba, an agricultural entomologist leading the research in Malawi, explains that the project is promoting a holistic approach to fruit fly management which has been evaluated and implemented in other countries. The control methods include use of traps and attractant to lure and kill male fruit flies, use of protein food bait laced with toxicants, orchard sanitation using special structures called augmentoria, use of biopesticides, and release of natural enemies called parasitoids.
Participatory research approach
A ‘farmer participatory approach’ is being implemented in Malawi, whereby the scientists and farmers are jointly collecting data in order to adapt the fruit fly management techniques to local needs, conditions and expectations. The fruit fly management methods are very effective if used correctly and consistently. They are safe for users, the environment, and consumers, since none of the interventions are applied directly to the fruits as is the case in conventional fruit fly control using synthetic pesticides.
“Prior to these fruit fly management interventions, mango losses were very high, with very little left for consumption and marketing,” explains Manase from Msiya village, under Traditional Authority Malili. Manase is one of the thousands of farmers participating in the research.
“Now we know the culprit behind the heavy losses in the quantity and quality of mangoes from our orchards,” add Elestina Masamba and Jelina Chiyembekezo both mango growers from Kachule Village, under Traditional Authority Masumbankhunda. “We are confident that these control measures will bring relief to farmers, as we can actually see the dead flies in the traps. This is evidence enough that our mangoes are finally protected.”
As part of outreach work on fruit fly population control, the Department of Agriculture Research Services has embarked on extensive awareness and training programs. Among the target audiences include agricultural extension officers and farmers as a means of capacity building now and beyond the project implementation phase.
The initiative is also utilizing lead farmers as champions who host demonstration learning sites in their areas. This they do after having attended intensive training on fruit fly management and will serve as centers of information dissemination.
The use of lead farmers in the community makes it easy for farmers to learn from their peers when technologies are demonstrated and their effectiveness judged by the users themselves.
One lead farmer, Stanford Dzakola, is happily engaging in awareness campaigns among fellow mango growers after attending training at Msipe Extension Planning Area (EPA), Chikombe Village in Traditional Authority Makwangwala in Ntchewu. “Ntchewu produces lots of mangoes that are transported to the main cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe for marketing. But the prevalence of fruit flies has been of major concerns as most farmers were unable to derive meaning profits from mango production and marketing enterprise,” explains Dzakola, who lauded the initiative.
One of the control methods being promoted are fruit fly attractants which can lure flies from a distance of 1 km. This was confirmed by Fanny Forward, another farmer under Msipe EPA: “We are grateful to agriculture extension staff for the excellent work they are doing,” she explains with a smile on her face. “Even though traps were not set in my farm, I have reaped the benefits of traps set 500 m from my orchard. These fruit flies were destroying mangoes. I am glad to report here that the situation has changed for the better.”
More extension advisory
Smang’aliso Mvula - Kachule, an agriculture extension development officer under Mpingu EPA says that farmers have learnt various aspects of fruit flies’ control. They can also use locally available materials to substitute traps which may be beyond the reach of most resource-challenged farmers. The augmentoria, for example, can be fabricated locally, while empty water bottles can be furnished into traps and the protein food bait is simply a by-product of the brewing industry. The natural enemies will be mass produced by the Department of Agriculture Research Services and released in farmer fields free of charge. Farmers will have to purchase the lures, which are currently being imported, will soon be available in local agro-shops close to farmers.
Like any other pilot initiative, these have been challenges here and there. Similarly, there have been reports of vandalism of traps, probably as a result of the bright yellow colour which attracts inquisitive children and adults who dislodge them after they have been set.
“This is currently being addressed through various awareness campaigns and promotion of improvised plastic water bottles which serve a similar function as long as an appropriate attractant for fruit flies is used,” explains research assistant Thom Mpuliwa from Bvumbwe Research Station.
Long term, it is hoped that the adoption and consistent use of the environmentally friendly fruit fly control measures will result in a significant increase in the quantity and quality of mangoes harvested by farmers and will eventually boost nutrition and incomes as well as open up wider avenues for value addition. Having sustained revenue will make farmers more financially stable, supporting them and their families well-being in the long term.
This article first appeared in the Weekend Nation of Malawi