KKL-JNF, under its general agricultural support, assists the regional R&D stations in implementing innovative methods for combating pests in order to reduce insecticide use. A significant tool for attaining this goal is disinfestation of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly by releasing sterile flies.
Regular use of insecticides reduces the soil’s agricultural value and is in contradiction to the principles of sustainable agriculture, which strives to conserve natural resources. The reduction in insecticide use is also very important for preserving public health.
The Mediterranean Fruit Fly is a major pest, which attacks more than 50 different types of fruit in Israel, mostly citrus groves and orchards, and lately, also sweet peppers. Sometimes farmers had to spray citrus groves 18 or more times per season in order to prevent damage by the Mediterranean Fruit Fly. The pest’s presence prevents marketing fruit in the United States, Europe, and the Far East.
Damage is caused after the female fly lays its eggs in the fruit. Emerging maggots feed upon the fruit, damaging it and causing it to rot. A generation in the lifespan of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly is 24 days to 3 months or more depending on environmental factors. The increase in the number of crops the fly attacks enables it to multiply each year.
The Bio-Fly Company at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu symbolizes the revolution in implementing a regional disinfestation interface based upon releasing sterile flies. The method is to sterilize the male flies using gamma radiation and disperse them in large numbers over large contiguous agricultural areas. The sterile males mate with the female flies at the expense of fertile males. Since most of the females mate only once in their lifetime, the fly population drops continuously along with the need for chemical sprays to disinfest them.
Today (2012), sterile flies are released over more than 90,000 dunam (22,500 acres), in five regional projects across Israel: In the Bet She’an Valley the project is supported by the Ministry of Agriculture in cooperation with farmers in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Additional areas participating in the project are in the southern Golan Heights, citrus groves inthe Besor Region, and in Moshav Lachish vineyards. The number of pesticide sprays was vastly reduced. In the Ofakim areathere is no necessity at all for spraying against the Mediterranean Fruit Fly.
In the Arava, the Zaha”v Project (Mediterranean Fruit Fly Disinfestation in the Aravah) has been underway since 1997. It is being implemented in cooperation with farmers from Israel and Jordan. This is the first area that sterile male flies were dispersed in Israel. Thanks to this project, the Mediterranean Fruit Fly is no longer a factor for economic damage in the area, so there is no imminent danger to exporting of fresh vegetables.