Lepidopteran Tecia solanivora, an insect pest, is currently devastating potato crops in Latin and Central America. Equador is particularly badly hit. Known as the “Guatemala moth”, it spreads quickly. Indeed in 2000 the moth was found to have reached the Canary Islands. Since then it has been on the red list of the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO). The pest, if uncontrolled, is considered to be a major threat to potato crops throughout southern Europe. A research team from the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) and the Catholic Pontifical University of Equador (PUCE, Quito) has been working on the problem since 1999. Its major objective is to define biological control strategies and procedures against populations of this pest. At the same time it intends to contribute to improving knowledge about the mechanisms involved in invasions by pest organisms.
The recent history of this moth begins in Guatemala, from where in 1970 it crossed over into Costa Rica. It then swept into several Latin American countries. It was reported in northern Equador in 1996 and since then it has spread to every potato producing region of that country. Colombia and Venezuela also suffer from such infestations. Equador had a severe attack in 2001, when 500 000 sack of potatoes had to be discarded and tens of thousands of hectares of the crop were rendered unfit to harvest. Even this year, 2002, the plague persists. Surveys conducted recently in all production areas indicate a situation even worse than last year.
Potatoes are the staple diet of most Andean populations. In Equador their production concerns about 1 million people. The use of pesticides, however, is costly. Moreover, insecticide sprays, if used without special precautions, carry tangible risks to public health and to the environment. And most of the farmers have neither the technology nor the facilities and equipment necessary for obtaining good results.
Helene Deval | alphagalileo
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