United NationsDepartamento de Asuntos Económicos y Sociales Desarrollo Sostenible

Sterile Insect Technique: helping establish pest free area in Argentina and facilitating trading path for exporting fruit


    Patagonia and two oases in the Mendoza Province in Argentina’s most southern region are home to 2 000 ha of cherry orchards, and over 50,000 ha of pear and apple. However, until 2002, most of these areas were also home to the Mediterranean fruit fly. This meant it was necessary to subject their commodities to expensive quarantine treatments in order to export to important markets. But in 2006, after years of working with the Joint FAO/IAEA Center on pest management projects that included the sterile insect technique (SIT), these areas were proven fruit fly free, opening the door to increasing exports, currently worth over USD 400 million per annum in apples, cherries and pears.


    The Mediterranean fruit fly is one of the world’s most important agricultural pests due to its devastation of crops and its impact on trade. The pest’s arrival in Argentina affected both fruit production and trade, and the battle began initially with conventional chemical control methods which are costly and cause negative impact on fruit quality, environment and public health. The SIT is an environment-friendly pest management method. When released sterile males mate with females in the wild, resulting in no offspring, leading to a decline and eradication in the pest population over time. The Joint FAO/IAEA Center provided technical support to the National Fruit Fly Control and Eradication Programme (PROCEM) in Argentina, adding SIT within its national pest management programme.

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    The projects directly contributed to several SDGs, in particular SDG 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10, though the projects were initiated in 1990s. They helped Argentina integrate SIT in its pest management programs, promoting sustainable development; improved fruit productivity and increased farmers’ income; facilitated fruit trade. The success also showcased employee empowerment and women’s role in the fruit production chain in Argentina, considering the main workforce in fruit production are smallholder families in the fruit growing regions, and women are the main driving force in fruit production and packing.

    Implementation methodologies

    The integrated pest management scheme including the SIT for fruit fly management was transferred to Argentina through an IAEA Technical Cooperation and the technical assistance from the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme. Through this cooperation, Argentina has managed to transit from conventional control using broad spectrum insecticides to the use of an environment-friendly and effective area-wide SIT. Fruit fly management in the Mendoza Oases and in the Patagonia region, followed a phased conditional approach strategy using area-wide SIT for Mediterranean fruit fly suppression and eradication. This allowed the establishment and maintenance of large pest free areas and the increase of fruit production volumes, quality and diversification of export markets. Technology has been transferred through many fellowships, expert missions, workshops, and provision of specialized materials such as improved fruit fly colony strains from the Insect Pest Control Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, to enhance the use of SIT as well as provision of specialized equipment. Under the framework of these projects, Argentina has called for national programme oversight several times, including recently when FAO and IAEA experts reviewed programme activities resulting in technology upgrades and enhanced pest management practices. One additional key aspect is the use of the International Standard on Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM 26) - Establishment of pest free areas for fruit flies (Tephritidae). ISPM 26 provided the authorities with clear technical guidance on the establishment and maintenance of fruit fly pest free areas (PFA), enabling recognition of the PFA status from a number of importing countries and the exports of stone and pome fruits with no quarantine restrictions.


    The projects helped Argentina set up fruit fly free areas for fruit production and boosted its fruit trade, allowing exports with no quarantine restrictions, currently worth over USD 400 million per annum in apples, cherries and pears. They greatly increased farmers’ income through cost reduction. For example, without SIT farmers have to apply in citrus orchards not less than 15 insecticide treatments per season, adding to an estimated cost of USD 2.4 million in some 16,000 ha. The projects also facilitated consumers’ access to safe fruit and created rural jobs, in particular for women. SIT promoted the establishment of the National Fruit Fly Control and Eradication Programme (PROCEM) in Argentina and contributed to public health and environment. It’s estimated that since the declaration of the fruit-fly free area, for every dollar spent by the PROCEM Patagonia and the quarantine systems protecting this region (control checkpoints), 15.40 dollars are generated in exports and savings from quarantine treatments. Moreover, the farmers were accompanied by strategic alliances between federal and state governments as well as other stakeholders, including private sector, which is fundamental to the success.

    Factors and Constraints

    Cooperation and support from governments and research institutions at both national and regional levels is paramount. The National Fruit Fly Control and Eradication Programme was instrumental. Additionally, partnerships with other stakeholders such as private sector and NGOs are of great importance in facilitating fruit export and trade. The great success in fruits such as apples, pears and peaches has been well expanded to cherries, boosting the fruit industry development in Argentina. To maintain the pest free status, continuous financial support from the government is key to keep the operation of critical activities.

    Sustainability and replicability

    Close partnerships between agricultural officials from federal and state governments, research institutions at both national and regional levels with farmers and horticultural industry to enhance their awareness and capacity in using SIT as part of an area-wide integrated pest management approach are key to the sustainability of the projects. The good practice has been well expanded in Argentina, including apples, pears, peaches and recently to cherries, which greatly promoted the whole fruit industry development of the country, facilitated the fruit export and trade, and consequently boosted its economy. Argentina is just one of more than 25 countries across the globe, where the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre’s commitment to help manage fruit fly using SIT and ultimately enhance farmers’ and general consumers’ livelihoods as well as contribute to nutritious fruit and affordable healthy diets.

    COVID-19 Impact

    The negative effects of the pandemic on the economy in Argentina (as in most countries) affected federal institutions and programmes including the National Fruit Fly Control and Eradication Programme. Nevertheless, through great efforts from the federal institutions as well as the multiple stakeholders including farmers, fruit industry, NGOs, private sectors and international organizations, essential programme operations were maintained with no significant effects on its operations and goals. The lesson learned is that through the establishment of strong partnerships and alliances between public and private sectors, large-scale operational programmes that use SIT are much more resilient and sustainable and thus capable of confronting extreme situations such as a pandemic.

    Contact Name
    Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
    Geographical coverage
    01 January 1997 (start date)
    31 December 2022 (date of completion)
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