IAEA Helps Burkina Faso Scale Up Fight Against Tsetse Flies

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso – Burkina Faso today inaugurated the largest insect rearing facility in West Africa to apply a nuclear technique to suppress the tsetse fly, an insect harmful to both humans and animals. The plant was built with the support of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in a move to help control one of Africa’s most devastating cattle diseases, Nagana.  

The Insectary of Bobo-Dioulasso is a mass-rearing factory that will help the region use the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) – a form of insect birth control – to reduce tsetse populations.

The SIT uses radiation to sterilize male insects, which are reared in large numbers and released to mate with wild females. Since these do not produce any offspring, the targeted insect population is suppressed over time, or potentially even eliminated. 

“The IAEA has been supporting Burkina Faso since the 1990s, when the country pioneered the technique in West Africa to release sterile male flies as a successful control tactic against tsetse,” said Aldo Malavasi, Deputy Director General of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, at the facility’s inauguration event attended by Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation Filiga Michel Sawadogo, representing the country’s Prime Minister, as well as several other ministers and high level officials.

The facility will be able to produce 300,000 sterile male tsetse flies per week. Through its joint programme with the FAO, the IAEA has trained technical staff to rear, irradiate and release the insect, and has provided technical advice and equipment. The Agency also provided the first colony of flies from its laboratories in Austria and from a partner laboratory in Slovakia to help Burkina Faso start production.

Combatting tsetse is a major concern in Africa, since its impact on agriculture, livestock and humans considerably hampers development efforts. 

The bloodsucking fly kills more than three million livestock in the sub-Saharan continent every year, generating US $4.5 billion in losses annually to the local agricultural industry. Tsetse flies transmit trypanosomosis, a parasite that causes Nagana, a wasting disease in cattle. In some parts of Africa, the fly is also responsible for spreading human “sleeping sickness”.   

“In certain ecological settings, the SIT can be a key component of tsetse control strategies, complementing other methods such as fly-trapping and insecticides, ” Malavasi said.

The inauguration marks an important milestone not only for the country, but also for the effective area-wide management of tsetse flies in West Africa, he added.

Through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA has been supporting the application of the SIT to manage insect pests around the world for decades through research, training, expertise and equipment. The Agency also supported the successful targeted eradication of tsetse from the Island of Unguja, Zanzibar, and is currently also helping Senegal and Ethiopia reduce their tsetse fly populations.

In May 2017, the Third IAEA/FAO International Conference on Area-Wide Management of Insect Pests will review ways to intensify the application of various control tactics to combat insect pests, including mosquitos that transmit human diseases such as Zika, dengue and malaria.

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