SOUTH AFRICA—The Western Cape Department of Agriculture has invested R2 million (USD 108,500) in the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) to boost its Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) program.

This initiative targets the False Codling Moth (FCM), a significant pest affecting export crops like citrus, table grapes, and stone fruit.

The FCM poses a serious threat to South Africa’s agricultural exports, with stringent international standards necessitating effective pest control measures.

The SIT program employs advanced scientific methods to curb FCM populations. In controlled environments, colonies of FCM are bred, and both male and female insects are sterilized using radiation from Cobalt-60.

These sterile insects are then released into the wild, where they mate with wild insects, resulting in eggs that do not hatch. This process leads to a significant decline in the pest population over time.

The SIT trials began in Citrusdal in 2005 through collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The success of these trials led to the establishment of X Sterile Insect Technique (X-SIT), which now administers the program. Despite its proven effectiveness, the high cost of SIT remains a barrier to its broader implementation.

Currently, the program covers 20,400 hectares, but with sufficient funding, it could expand to over 40,000 hectares, creating around 50 new jobs in the process.

The CGA has underscored the importance of continued financial backing to sustain and expand the SIT program.

The R2 million (USD 108,500)  provided by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture is a vital step in alleviating some of the financial burdens faced by growers in the region. This funding aims to ensure the continued production of high-quality, residue-free fruit, essential for maintaining export standards.

Dr Ivan Meyer, Western Cape Minister of Agriculture, highlighted the significance of this support, stating, “Our support for the SIT program underscores our commitment to a sustainable agricultural sector. This funding will help secure the future of our citrus industry, ensuring that it remains competitive in the global market while protecting our environment and creating jobs.”

Justin Chadwick, CEO of the CGA, expressed his gratitude for the provincial government’s contribution. “The generous support from the Western Cape Government is a significant boost for X-SIT and everybody involved. The CGA hopes this type of agricultural innovation will find widespread support, as developing new technologies, though essential, does not come cheaply,” Chadwick said.

In addition to its effectiveness in pest control, the SIT program offers environmental benefits by reducing the reliance on harmful pesticides.

This not only leads to improved fruit quality but also promotes a healthier ecosystem. Addressing the FCM issue in the Western Cape is expected to increase export earnings, particularly in the citrus industry, thus uplifting rural communities through job creation and economic growth.

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