sde eliyahu - Gil Eliyahu - June 20 2011
An employee of the Bio Fly factory on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu yesterday. Photo by Gil Eliyahu
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The Agriculture Ministry has recently taken a new step in the direction of environmental protection: After years of providing sweeping support to farmers' predilection for the use of insecticides, the ministry is cracking down on the use of environmentally dangerous chemical agents, and is calling on farmers to use insecticides that do not harm the environment.

The ministry has decided to gradually withdraw its support of the use of chemical insecticides against fruit flies. Such insecticide is particularly harmful to the environment. By 2014, the ministry will offer no support for the use of this insecticide. Meanwhile, for the next two years or so, the ministry will allow farmers to adapt to the use of other insecticides, while partially relying on the chemical agent. For the purpose of adapting to environmentally friendly insecticides, the ministry will provide farmers NIS 30 million in assistance.

At least two types of fruit flies attack citrus crops in Israel. The use of chemical insecticide against fruit flies makes up close to 30 percent of the use of chemical agents in agricultural areas in Israel.

"The main insecticide in use today against fruit flies is an organophosphate called malathion," says Miriam Freund, the head of vegetation protection services at the Agriculture Ministry. "One of the main problems with its use is that it harms more than the flies. It is, in fact, less toxic to humans than other organophosphates, but it can cause environmental damage."

According to Freund, the policy of ending the use of chemical insecticides stems from environmental considerations, but it also has economic dimensions. "Insecticide agents have become very expensive in recent years," she says. "Every insecticide is used more carefully by farmers, due to its steep price."

The use of alternative insecticides has already been implemented on an experimental basis in five areas, covering a total of 30,000 dunams. The total area in which insecticides are used against fruit flies encompasses 200,000 dunams. Alternatives to chemical agents include the use of a mushroom-based insecticide, and also traps that catch large numbers of fruit flies.

A third system, which could become a long-term solution, involves the release of sterile fruit flies. Such flies mate with other fruit flies, but do not produce new generations.

Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu today operates a Bio Fly factory, which supplies sterile flies - and this method of pest control is already in use among some citrus farmers, in lieu of the chemical agents. Also, in recent years, permission has been granted for the import to Israel of wasps, a natural enemy of the fruit fly.

"We also need to use simple methods of sanitation," says Freund.