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Government wants nuclear technology to fight tsetse flies

By John Odyek

Added 25th September 2017 09:23 AM

Nagana is a debilitating chronic condition in livestock that reduces fertility, weight gain, and impacts meat and milk production.

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Irene Muloni

The Government has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help Uganda get rid of the deadly blood-sucking tsetse flies using the nuclear technology. 

Energy minister Irene Muloni made the request to use the nuclear-based sterile insect technique (SIT) during a meeting with Ambassador Yukiya Amano the IAEA director general.

Muloni has led a Ugandan delegation to the 61st regular session of the IAEA that runs for one week. It was held at Vienna International Centre, Austria.

In the meeting the minister called for strengthening partnership in cancer management and nuclear power infrastructure development and enhancing food safety to promote exportation of agricultural products. 

In Uganda, some parts of Karamoja, West Nile Region and Murchison Falls National Park, parts of Lake Victoria basin, part of Busoga, Queen Elizabeth Park, Semliki National Park and Lake Mburo Park do get the pesky tsetse flies in some seasons of the year.

Tsetse flies cause a disease called nagana in livestock and sleeping sickness in humans. The disease is caused by a parasite that is transmitted when the tsetse flies bite animals and humans to feed on their blood.

Nagana is a debilitating chronic condition in livestock that reduces fertility, weight gain, and impacts meat and milk production. 

It makes livestock too weak to be used for ploughing or transport, which in turn affects crop production. 

According to the IAEA, the sterile insect technique is an environmentally-friendly insect pest control method involving the mass-rearing and sterilization, using radiation, of a target pest, followed by the systematic area-wide release of the sterile males by air over defined areas, where they mate with wild females resulting in no offspring and a declining pest population.

Irradiation such as with gamma rays and X-rays is used to sterilise mass-reared insects so that while they remain sexually competitive, they cannot produce offspring. SIT does not involve transgenic (genetic engineering) processes.

Jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the IAEA assists its member states in developing and adopting nuclear-based technologies for optimising agricultural insect pest management practices that support the intensification of crop production and the preservation of natural resources.

The sterile insect technique was first developed in the USA and has been used successfully for more than 60 years. The International Plant Protection Convention categorizes sterile insects as beneficial organisms.

According to IAEA 20 years ago Unguja Island, an island off the coast of Tanzania became the first in Africa to get rid of the tsetse fly thanks to the nuclear technique. Prior to eradication, losses to livestock due to the nagana disease the flies carried cost farmers dearly

The 20th anniversary of the last wild tsetse fly being trapped on the Island was marked in September 2016. Since 1996, Unguja Island has been free from this large blood-sucking fly and from 1997 there has been no evidence of the presence of the parasites that cause nagana in livestock.

The elimination of nagana has resulted in a reduction in abortion rates in cattle, calf mortality and an increase in meat and milk production as well as an increase in numbers of crossbred cows.


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