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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Hawai'i needs decisive win against fruit flies

Hawai'i's battle against the fruit fly often resembles one of those fever dreams, where no matter how hard you run, you never get closer to the goal.

But as Education Writer Beverly Creamer recently reported, the tide may be turning in the battle against this hugely damaging pest.

Using a combination of techniques ranging from heightened field "sanitation" through lures and poison to eradicate fertile male files, University of Hawai'i researchers have been able to drastically reduce fly populations on local farms.

What they have come up with is not a "magic bullet," but rather a mix of techniques that change according to crop, terrain and type of fly being targeted.

This multipronged approach has the double advantage of reducing the need for pesticides and vastly increasing crop yield. Unchecked, fruit flies can destroy as much as a quarter of any crop.

And because of their threat, farmers are reluctant to even attempt to grow crops that are particularly vulnerable to the pest.

Despite recent successes, fruit flies remain a threat to local crops and a major barrier against developing a robust export market. Produce grown here must be subjected to expensive and time-consuming treatment before it can be sent overseas.

But as Creamer reported, now that scientists believe they have a handle on controlling the fruit fly, they are taking a fresh look at the ultimate goal: eradication.

That's a goal well worth pursuing. It should be a top priority for the university, for state policy makers who must come up with the resources to support the effort and for the industry itself.

If the fruit fly could be eliminated as a factor in local agriculture, the prospects are enormous.

First, it would open the door to growing far more crops in the Islands, ranging from peaches to apples. This would increase our self-sufficiency, stimulate our local economy and provide active use for thousands of acres of agricultural land now sitting idle.

Second, it would jump-start our export industry. Imagine the potential if the vast array of tropical and exotic fruits and vegetables grown year-round in Hawai'i could be easily brought to market elsewhere.

Local scientists have made tremendous strides against this economically devastating pest. It is now time to finish the job.