The continued growth and success of the Moroccan citrus industry has been threatened by the presence of a pest species: the Mediterranean fruit fly. This is not a small thing, as the cultivation and export of citrus plays a significant role in Morocco’s economy: it employs more than 13,000 farmers and farm workers and produces exports of US $300 million per year.
The IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has helped Morocco achieve its first victory in the ongoing campaign to suppress medflies. Moroccan counterparts have, under an IAEA technical project, received the training and equipment necessary to detect and respond to any incursion by other pests, which is a prerequisite for the sustained suppression of the Mediterranean fruit fly using the sterile insect technique (SIT), an environmentally friendly nuclear technique that can lead to the suppression or elimination of insect pests.
Without a system in place to keep out other pests, successful use of SIT would lead to other pests taking their place in the citrus orchards.
Walther Enkerlin, an expert at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture: “Some of these species are as hard to control as the Mediterranean Fruit Fly, so giving them a chance to establish themselves and then an advantage by suppressing the medfly would be counterproductive.”
As medflies have made their home in Morocco’s citrus orchards and farms, the volume of the country’s citrus exports has been reduced due to yield reductions caused by direct damage to fruit and to increased production costs associated with the use of insecticides and post-harvest treatments, necessary for fruit exports.
Furthermore, farmers have seen indirect losses due to quarantine restrictions imposed by importing countries and have faced environmental costs caused by traditional, broad-spectrum insecticides. At the same time, the European Union, which has been the main traditional export market for Moroccan citrus fruits, has increasingly lowered the acceptable levels of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, due to food safety concerns.