Fears of a new, particularly virulent strain of fruit fly invading South Africa’s citrus crops appear to have been abated — at least for now.
Back in March, bloomberg.com reported that the country’s $1.2 billion fruit industry was bracing for a possible invasion of Bactrocera invadens, a strain of fruit fly that originated in Sri Lanka but had spread south across the African continent the past five years. South Africa closed its borders to fruit exporters from Namibia after the pest turned up there in November of last year.
Thus far, though, vigorous and aggressive surveillance programs appear to have been successful at keeping the fruit fly out of South Africa’s citrus crops.
Justin Chadwick, chief executive officer of South Africa’s Citrus Growers Association, Hillcrest, told Bloomberg.com he was concerned back in March. But his outlook had changed quite a bit — and for the better — when he spoke to The Packer in mid April.
“So far, it’s not happened in South Africa,” Chadwick said. “We have intense surveillance trapping along our borders and a stockpile of chemicals should a fly be trapped.
“There is close collaboration between the fruit industries and department of agriculture in terms of an early warning system and response plan.”
According to the Bloomberg report, a biotechnology lab in Austria is trying to breed sterile male flies to stem the plague, which has decimated agricultural crops throughout much of the African continent.
The insects, which can travel up to 62 miles over their three-month lives, eat the fruit and lay eggs inside the flesh. Especially worrisome to U.S. growers: Bactrocera also appears able to adapt easily to new climates and could get to the U.S., should infected fruit ever make its way into U.S. ports.
But for now at least, that won’t happen with South African citrus exports, officials said.
“The Western Cape is separated by any other growing area by about 1,000 miles of desert,” said Marc Solomon, president for Fisher Capespan, Philadelphia. “There are no concerns at all.”
Mayda Sotomayor, chief executive officer of Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., said South Africa has done a great job with its Sterile Insect Technique program, which has introduced biological controls, much like the Austrian laboratory.
“ Last year, they had the (lowest) percentage of (fruit fly) findings,” she said.
Piet Smit, managing director of the Western Cape Citrus Producers’ Forum, Citrusdal, South Africa, said, “At this time, it’s looking better than it ever has. It’s under control.”