Area-Wide Control of Insect Pests

pp 449-456

Privatizing the SIT: a Conflict Between Business and Technology?

  • B. N. BarnesAffiliated withPlant Protection Division, ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij

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A programme to suppress the Mediterranean fruit fly Ceratitis capitata (Wiedemann) using the sterile insect technique (SIT) has been in operation in South Africa since 1999. After a difficult start, the Hex River Valley SIT Pilot Project covering 10 000 hectares of table grapes has been regarded as a success. Two other fruit production areas have since joined the area-wide integrated pest management programme (AW-IPM) that includes an SIT component. There is wide acceptance in the fruit industry that integrating the SIT for the development of fruit fly-free areas or fruit fly-low prevalence areas under a systems approach, are essential to remain competitive on the international fruit export market. Due to insufficient government funding to fully sustain this AW-IPM programme, and in the absence of capital investment for the production of sterile insects, economic realities ultimately compelled the AW-IPM programme to privatize its sterile fruit fly production and distribution operations in 2003. SIT Africa (Pty) Ltd thereby became the first commercial Mediterranean fruit fly sterile insect production company in the world, albeit a very small one. This development, at a time when the existence of the entire programme was seriously threatened by economic considerations, probably saved the programme from an early demise. However, economic, operational and cultural factors existing in the programme present a number of dilemmas with respect to the long-term success and expansion of the SIT in South Africa.Without economies of scale, the quest for commercial survival of the small production facility has the potential to create a conflict between what is good for business and what is good for the SIT. In order to sustain the SIT in South Africa, a middle road needs to be found where neither the sterile insect technology nor business viability is compromised.

KEYWORDS sterile insect technique, Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata, privatization, funding, economic factors, operational factors, cultural factors, conflicts of interes