TOURISTS to the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament could be bringing in an unwanted and potentially economically crippling visitor – the African invader fly.
Issuing an urgent alert, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) yesterday announced steps it was taking to ensure visitors entering South Africa would not bring in any food or animal products that could be contaminated with the fly.
The African invader fly – which has caused millions of rands' worth of damage to the economies of South Africa's neighbours – has already been detected in Limpopo, potentially threatening food security.
DAFF plant health promotions department assistant director Mpho Sekgala said: "Our appeal, especially to Afcon visitors, is to not bring in any food products, especially fruit."
DAFF early warning systems division manager Jan-Hendrik Venter said Afcon posed a serious threat in terms of the spread of the fly. "It is imperative travellers do not travel with fruit from infected areas. One infected mango can contain 30 fly lava and if this spreads, we have serious problems."
It is the third time since 2010 that the fly – the larvae of which destroy fruit and vegetables – has been detected in Limpopo's rural regions.
In Botswana, it has caused more than R11- million worth of damage to fruit farmers.
Sekgala said while the fly had not yet caused too much damage in South Africa, the potential was there.
"Our eradication programmes in the past have been successful. Eradication processes are under way in Limpopo," he said.
"Our biggest concern is the spread of this fly and the threat to Mpumalanga and North West Province. All of our neighbouring countries have reported the fly's occurrence ... which is of major concern."
Sekgala said once infected, fruit had to be destroyed. "The biggest challenge we now face is the movement of infected fruit and the education of especially hawkers and small subsistence farmers.
"While infected areas have been quarantined, there is a danger of the fly spreading – especially through vendors selling fruit to motorists. No matter who you are, if you are selling fruit in a quarantined area, you have to have a special permit – you may not move your fruit to 'clean' areas," he said.
The flies reproduced "at the speed of lightning". "Once detected, we have to act quickly with eradication processes."
Venter said: "We have established containment areas and are eradicating the insect through organic pesticides and bait traps in villages, orchards and production zones.
"[The fly] can cause large production losses for small-scale farmers, threatening food security, and can lead to international trade bans."