African invader could threaten food, jobs

Africa Cup of Nations visitors could introduce an unwanted and potentially economically crippling visitor – the African invader fly.

Issuing an urgent alert, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries yesterday announced steps it was taking to ensure visitors would not bring in any unwanted food or animal products that could be contaminated with the fly.

The fly – which has caused millions of rands worth of damage to the economies of South Africa’s neighbours – has already been detected in Limpopo, threatening food security.

Mpho Sekgala, the department’ s assistant director for plant health promotion , said: “Our appeal is not to bring any foreign food products, especially fruit.”

Jan Hendrik Venter, the department’s early warning systems manager, said Afcon posed a serious threat to the spread of the fly.

“It is imperative travellers do not travel with fruit from infected areas. One infected mango can contain 30 fly larvae and if this spreads we have serious problems.”

It is the third time since 2010 that the fly – whose larvae destroy fruit and vegetables – has been detected in Limpopo. In Botswana, it has caused more than R11-million damage on fruit farms.

“Our eradication programmes in the past have been successful. Eradication processes are under way in Limpopo,” Sekgala said.

Although it had been detected, it had yet to reach infestation phase.

“Our biggest concern is the spread of this fly and the threat to Mpumalanga and North West.

“All of our neighbouring countries have reported the fly’s occurrence … which is of major concern,” Sekgala said. Once infected, fruit had to be destroyed.

“The biggest challenge is the movement of infected fruit and education of hawkers and subsistence farmers.

“While infected areas have been quarantined, there is a danger of the fly spreading through vendors selling fruit to motorists.”

If the infestation is not curbed, it could have detrimental effects, especially to the economy.

Venter said: “We have established containment areas and are eradicating the insect through organic pesticides and specialised bait traps in villages, orchards and production zones.

“The financial loss is on multiple fronts. It can cause large production loss for small-scale farmers, threatening food security, and can lead to international trade bans.

“Trade restrictions could see market loss and difficulty in accessing new markets.

“The direct financial impact is in terms of production losses, while the indirect impact is market losses. Studies show that a 10% production loss can lead to the potential loss of 75000 jobs.”