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AGRICULTURE REPORT – June 4, 2002: Tsetse Fly Threat to Agriculture - 2002-06-03

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

The tsetse (TSEET-see) fly is a serious problem in many parts of Africa. Tsetse flies cause problems in an area of almost ten-million square kilometers. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says some of this area is fertile land that could be used for agriculture. F-A-O officials say stopping the insect would help African farmers reclaim land and increase food production.

Tsetse flies feed on the blood of humans and animals. The fly carries a parasite that attacks the blood and nervous system of its victims. This organism causes trypanosomiasis (tri-PAN-oh-so-MY-ah-sis), a disease known as nagana (nah-GAH-nah) in farm animals. In humans, the disease is called sleeping sickness.

Trypanosimiasis kills eighty percent of infected victims. The disease affects an estimated five-hundred-thousand people. It kills three-million farm animals each year.

Thirty-seven countries in Africa are affected by tsetse flies. Thirty-two of these countries are among the poorest in the world. Each year, it costs at least six-hundred-million dollars to attempts to control the disease and in direct losses of meat and milk production.

Jorge Hendrichs is an insect control expert with the F-A-O. He says the tsetse fly keeps people poor by preventing them from producing the food they need to survive. The tsetse fly and trypanosimiasis have slowed the development of agriculture in Africa. One-hundred-fifty-five-million cattle are being raised in tsetse-free areas south of the Sahara Desert. The area of land that is tsetse-free is small. It is being overused by both cattle and people.

One method that has proved successful in fighting the tsetse is the sterile insect treatment. Male flies treated with radiation become sterile, or unable to reproduce. The insects then are released into areas with other flies. After mating, the eggs of the wild females do not develop.

The F-A-O says the sterile insect treatment has been used with traps and other methods to end the tsetse fly problem on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. Mister Hendrichs says these efforts have no long-lasting side effects on the environment.

Use of these methods may seem costly, especially in some parts of Africa. Yet, Mister Hendrichs says the question is not how much such methods cost, but how much living with the tsetse costs.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.