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NOT ROCKET SCIENCE: Nuclear techniques keep insects at bay in Croatia’s Neretva Valley via Faoreu

Growers in the picturesque citrus orchards of Croatia’s Neretva Valley are keeping their fruit clear of insect pests – but without resorting to pesticides. They use the so-called Sterile Insect Technique, with help from the Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture – a joint unit of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Division pioneered the technique and has been backing its application in the Neretva Valley since 2010.

In essence, the approach is to release thousands of sterile male fruit flies near orchards. The sterile males mate with wild females but produce no offspring, thus suppressing insect populations. This photo story takes a peek inside the insect emergence and release facility in Opuzen, Croatia.

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In effect, the Sterile Insect Technique is a “birth control“ method for insects promoting the creation of pest-free areas or areas of low pest prevalence. It involves the use of ionizing radiation to sterilize mass-reared pest insects, such as fruit flies, which are subsequently released into infested target areas. There, the sterile males mate with fertile wild females but produce no offspring. Sterile males should outnumber wild males and cause the fruit fly population to decline.

The basic technology dates back to the 1950s, but was improved by the FAO-IAEA Insect Pest Control Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria. The laboratory also developed and harmonized international quality control guidelines for sterile insects.

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