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ICIPE releases wasp to control Tuta Absoluta pest that causes 100% tomato damage

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By George Munene

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) has released a parasitic wasp in Kirinyaga County—Kenya’s largest producer of tomatoes—that promises to rid farmers of the tomato leafminer pest that causes up to 100 per cent in yield losses if unchecked.

More than any other tomato pest, Tuta absoluta, dubbed “tomato ebola” in Nigeria, has been the bane of African farmers since it was first detected in the continent in 2008. It is near impossible to effectively control by chemical methods due to the insect’s capability of quickly developing resistance to new insecticide strains. Its nature of damage—burrowing into fruits and its larvae mining crop leaves—make pesticide contact difficult.

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“One of the main challenges in the control of tuta is its fast reproduction rate, with many generations emerging per year. As such, the pest quickly develops resistance to major pesticides,” explains Dr Samira Mohamed, Senior Scientist, ICIPE. “This, in turn, forces farmers to apply broad-spectrum synthetic insecticides, often in extremely high doses, and far too frequently. This has led to increased production costs, and pesticide residues in yield with detrimental impact on the health of growers, consumers and the environment,” he adds.

Tuta absoluta attacks result in 50 to 100 per cent tomato yield reduction with the infected fruits losing their marketability. This often forces farmers to uproot entire fields to arrests the pest’s rapid spread which is aided by the ubiquity of solanaceous plants, intensive monoculture and a lack of observing proper crop rotation intervals.

The wasp, Dolichogenidea gelichiidivoris, which has been imported from Peru acts as a natural enemy for Tuta absoluta by laying its eggs inside the pest’s caterpillars. The eggs emerge as adult wasps killing the larvae of the pest. The wasp spreads rapidly in search of the pest infested plant material.

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ICIPE will continuously monitor and report on the wasp’s progress in tackling tuta and the improvement of tomato yield in the initial field releases carried out in Central Kenya. The insects and arthropods research body plans to releases the wasp in other major tomato-growing regions in Kenya, as well as in Ethiopia and Uganda.

ICIPE: +254-20-8632000/Mbita Campus: +254-59-22216/Duduville Campus: +254-20-8632000

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