Fruit fly frenzy for pheromones in Bangladesh

With cuelure, damage caused by fruit flies went down 70%, and farmers have been making a profit. After just a few seasons with the new technique, Bangladeshi cucurbit farmers are making three times what they made before.

Everyone knows that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but Bangladeshi farmers have a better way. They use cuelure.

Cuelure, named after the formidable melon fly Bactrocera cucurbitae, is a synthetic chemical compound that mimics female melon fly sex pheromones. It was introduced to cucurbit farmers in Bangladesh — cucurbits being melons, cucumbers, and gourds — only a few years ago by the USAID-funded Integrated Pest Management Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Lab (IPM IL) as part of an IPM program to reduce melon fly damage to cucurbit crops.

Cuelure — the insect equivalent of Chanel #5 — is irresistible to male melon flies. When placed in a recycled plastic jar with a small amount of pesticide, it lures fruit flies to their death. IPM IL scientists have demonstrated that the pheromone trap is highly effective and can catch 5–18 times as many flies as the original trap using mashed gourd instead of the pheromone. Eliminating hundreds of flies daily, the traps reduce the cost of pest control and increase crop yields. Additionally, when pheromone traps are used together with mashed gourd traps, farmers increase net returns by over 300 percent.

The importance of cucurbits to the Bangladesh economy cannot be overestimated. Over 15 different types are marketed locally and internationally — the sweet gourd, the bitter gourd, and the snake gourd, for example. Until recently, though, the dreaded melon fly has taken a huge bite out of profits, making farmers question whether they should even continue growing them. With cuelure however, farmers are no longer hesitant. The traps have given them great confidence.

The whole country is buzzing with excitement as farmers whisk their beautiful cucumbers and melons to market. It has completely turned their lives around. Nazrul Islam Khan, a farmer in the western district of Jessore, calls it a “magic trap.”

Before cuelure, pesticides were applied on a weekly basis, costing the farmers more to produce the vegetables than they were making through sales, not to mention the health and environmental problems they caused. With cuelure, damage caused by fruit flies went down 70 percent, and farmers have been making a profit. This year, many growers now using cuelure bait traps no longer use pesticides at all. After just a few seasons with the new technique, Bangladeshi cucurbit farmers are making three times what they made before using cuelure. Imagine making three times what you make today. What would you do with the extra money? Bangladesh is a developing country, so often the extra money means farmers can finally afford to buy milk, school supplies, and medical care for their family.

The livelihood security that this practice brings is an important objective of the IPM IL, a program funded by USAID that supports research, education, and cooperation among U.S. and developing country institutions. Program scientists are dedicated to teaching farmers all over the world better, safer, and cheaper ways to manage agricultural pests. By learning new farming practices, even the poorest farmers have a chance to improve their daily lives.

One way new practices are spread is through farmer field schools set up by the IPM IL in collaboration with CARE and the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). These organizations bring farmers together and train them in the new techniques, which they themselves then take back to demonstrate to their own communities. Since 2003, over 47,000 farmers in Bangladesh have attended farmer field schools as well as farmer training and field days in Bangladesh. These events are essential in promoting the widespread use of new pest management methods such as pheromone traps.

Today, thousands of cucurbit growers in Bangladesh have adopted the use of cuelure to manage melon flies. Government extension agencies in 15 of 64 districts offer farmer field schools for pheromone baiting, and in Jessore alone, more than 90 percent of the farmers are now using cuelure. The IPM IL project has even gained the interest of the Bangladeshi Minister of Agriculture, who, after attending a farmer training day at the BARI experimental station, agreed to register and import enough pheromone to treat almost 1 million acres of cucurbit crops. IPM researchers expect that as soon as cuelure is available on the market, its adoption will spread even more quickly.

Bangladeshi cucurbit farmers are now smiling. They no longer fear the dreaded melon fly. Instead, they set up their cuelure traps and collect their profits, which many would agree, are by far sweeter than honey.