Saeed Badshah Mohmand

The hope of purchasing a tractor with the earnings from the summer season was shattered by a fly. Unlike previous years, vegetable prices remained low this year due to the spread of the fruit fly disease in the bitter gourd crop.

Islam Gul, a resident farmer of Tehsil Ambar, who discards cartloads of spoiled bitter gourd daily, shared his years-long involvement in farming. This year, he had planned to buy his own tractor for farming and cultivated bitter gourd on his 10 acres of agricultural land.

Similarly, local farmers from Darawo Bazar in Ambar to Sarla cultivated bitter gourd on hundreds of acres of fertile land. Despite the promise of a good harvest, an outbreak of a vegetable bug suddenly hit their fields, resulting in a widespread epidemic that led to significant crop loss and financial hardship amounting to millions.

The impact extended from the Ambar region to cities in the Punjab province such as Multan and Rawalpindi. Moreover, around 90 thousand kg of bitter gourd were being supplied to vegetable markets in Mardan, Bajaur, Timergarah, and Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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Although this gourd was also being exported to Gulf countries, the disease severely undermined the market value of their produce both domestically and internationally, causing a decline in demand. Now, the effectiveness of the fruit fly traps provided by the Department of Agriculture Mohmand will be put to the test in combating this disease.

Asif Iqbal, the district director of the Mohmand District Agriculture Department, highlighted the havoc caused by the fruit fly in fruit orchards and vegetable fields, resulting in 20 to 30 percent spoilage of produce. Among the vegetables, bitter gourd, and cucumber crops suffered the most, causing substantial financial and temporal losses for farmers.

Iqbal noted that farmers usually resort to spraying crops with harmful chemicals to prevent the disease, which poses risks to human health and the environment. To address this, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Agriculture Department swiftly supplied 5500 eco-friendly fruit fly traps to mitigate the losses caused by the fruit fly in the Mohmand district.

These traps, designed based on modern agricultural research, attract male fruit flies by using the scent and hormones of female fruit flies mixed with poison. This approach lures the male flies into the traps, where they are exposed to the poison and perish. However, caution is advised against direct contact with the traps, and they should be kept out of children’s reach.

Iqbal stressed that deploying four traps per acre of the crop is sufficient to significantly control the fruit fly population and counteract the epidemic’s impact on vegetables and fruits. The Mohmand District Agriculture Department maintains active communication with local farmers, providing comprehensive assistance and support in combating the issue.

Malik Gulab Sher, the president of the Farmers’ Union in Mohmand, disclosed the distressing outbreak of vegetables. He recounted how the farmers had been lamenting the dismal prices of vegetables, which led farmers from various tehsils to encroach upon hundreds of acres of already cultivated vegetable fields, resulting in substantial damage.

He elaborated that based on their meticulous organizational data, the spread of the fruit fly disease had affected 120 acres in Mohmand Tehsil Ambar, 100 acres in Pindialai Tehsil, 80 acres in Safi Tehsil, and 30 acres in the higher regions of Halimzai Tehsil. The disease had impacted ready-to-harvest crops of bitter gourd and other vegetables. Bitter gourd, being extensively cultivated, bore the brunt of the impact the most.

Director General of Agriculture for Merged Districts, Murad Ali Khan, informed TNN that the fruit fly outbreak had escalated to both national and international levels. Formerly targeting guava and peach fruits, this disease had now infiltrated the realm of vegetables. The most affected vegetables in the tribal districts included bitter gourd, cucumber, pumpkin, and zucchini. The fruit fly deposits its eggs in fruits and vegetables through its sting, leading to infection. Consequently, this menace was causing wastage of up to 30% of the vegetable and fruit yields due to spoilage.

DG Agriculture emphasized that in light of this critical situation, the government had initiated a significant project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, supported by the World Bank. The project aimed to install fruit fly traps across all gardens and agricultural lands in the region. Recognizing the losses faced by farmers, he personally visited Mohmand district and swiftly distributed fruit fly traps to farmers in Tehsil Ambar, Tehsil Pindialai, and Tehsil Parang Ghar on an emergency basis.

He urged farmers to actively participate and take responsibility in the provincial government’s campaign to combat fruit fly infestation. He underscored that this was not only a provincial but also a national duty to rectify the losses caused by fruit and vegetable diseases.

Sher Ali Khan, a farmer from Tehsil Safi Kandaro, expressed his surprise at the untimely appearance of the fruit fly in July. Traditionally, the fruit fly infestation occurred in September and October, aligning with the end of the summer season and the sale of vegetable produce, which mitigated losses. The unexpected early arrival of the fruit fly in July, perhaps due to climate change, had adversely affected their early gourd production. Even now, to gather 10 bags of gourds, one bag of diseased gourds had to be discarded.

A young farmer from Tehsil Parang Ghar expressed optimism regarding the efficacy of the free fruit fly traps provided by the Department of Agriculture, District Mohmand. He believed in the merit of these traps, backed by research from the Department of Agriculture and government approval. He hoped that these traps would safeguard their fruit plants and field vegetables from diseases transmitted by insects.