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Pest Control Can Fight Poverty

The solution to eradicating the world’s poverty may lie in managing some of the tiniest creatures of the natural world, said Director General of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) Christian Borgemeister in a lecture on Monday at the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Borgemeister works to alleviate poverty through a biological approach, advocating that developing nations can improve their public health infrastructure and agricultural production by controlling pests that infect livestock, destroy crops, and spread disease.

One such pest, which Borgemeister described as “the true African menace,” is the tsetse fly—the insect that is responsible for the transmission of nagana disease in African livestock and human sleeping sickness in local populations.

To combat these diseases—which can cripple local African economies—Borgemeister and his colleagues have developed two novel solutions to ward off the tsetse fly.

The first solution presented—designed to trap the pest—is an “NGU trap” that combines visual and olfactory cues to attract the fly from afar. Once the fly approaches the trap, it whiffs a potent mixture of cow urine and acetone that lures it inside a cloth funnel, where it is killed by the sun’s rays.

Just four NGU traps are needed to rid a square kilometer of tsetse flies, and at approximately ten dollars per trap, Borgemeister said the cost-effectiveness of the contraption makes it a powerful technology.

Borgemeister’s second solution, the “Waterbuck Repellant Blend,” is a special kind of animal spray that inhibits tsetse flies from landing on farmers’ livestock and transmitting disease.

In addition to these insect-targeting solutions to alleviate human and animal diseases, Borgemeister outlined approaches to prevent agricultural losses to invasive crop pests. Not only did he present biochemical approaches—such as the use of adult pheromone phenylacetonitrile (PAN) against the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria—but he also presented innovative planting techniques to prevent wide transmission of pest diseases.

These innovative solutions appealed to student attendees like Ryan Heffrin ’13, who wrote in an emailed statement that Borgemeister “provided an insightful perspective into both the challenges facing agricultural advancement in East Africa [and] the opportunities that are possible with public-private partnerships and extensive stakeholder participation.”

“There is a massive need and potential for improving agricultural yields in some of the poverty-stricken areas of the world,” she continued, “and it was exciting to learn about the work that ICIPE is doing to help bring about this change."

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