As the planet’s climate heats up, rising temperatures have caused a massive increase in Kenya’s fruit fly population, say agricultural experts. Farmers in fruit fly-infested areas are losing on average up to half their crops each year to the tiny pests, said research assistant Onesmus Mwaura from the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).
Fruit-fly damage costs farmers an estimated 50 billion Kenyan shillings ($472 million) every year, according to the government’s Horticultural Crops Directorate.
The fruit fly population in Gideon Gitonga’s 0.8-hectare avocado orchard near Kirwire village (Meru County) was “minimal” when he first started commercial avocado farming eight years ago. It has since turned into an infestation, destroying up to three-quarters of his crop each year since 2017, he said. Even when the affected avocados survive, their quality is so degraded it is difficult to find anyone willing to buy them.
Paul Thiuki, an agricultural extension officer who has been working in Meru for 20 years, said the region’s warming climate has turned it into a perfect breeding ground for fruit flies. Average temperatures in Kenya have risen by 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade since 1985, according to the U.S. development agency USAID.