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Magic in mango research

Assa speaks with mango wholesalers.

Here I am talking to mango wholesalers about the fruit fly.

Today’s post comes to us from Assa Balayara, a graduate research assistant within the Entomology Department at Virginia Tech. Her research, funded by ERA-Senegal, focuses on the economic impact of the invasive fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) on mango production in her native Senegal. Her advisor is Professor Douglas G. Pfeiffer.

I learn something new every time I step into a field. Fieldwork is where I come to life. Venturing away from the lab and onto the land offers me a chance to meet growers, wholesalers and retailers in their natural environments — the orchards. I study the mango fruit fly, a pest with devastating effects on mango orchards, and one that has a huge economic impact on the people who cultivate the big round fruit.

The majority of people in the mango business in Senegal, my home country, are unaware of problems associated with fruit fly infestation. The fact is that mango production is debilitated by the quarantine fruit fly pest: Bactrocera dorsalis. This is a problem, since mango production plays a vital role in home consumption, local markets, and exports. In fact, the mango supply chain provides up to 40,000 jobs in Senegal. Thus, this fruit fly pest poses a direct threat to Senegal’s economy. This is where my research comes in.

Assa chats with wholesalers.

I am standing at left, wearing my VT t-shirt and speaking with wholesalers about the impact of the fruit fly on mango sales.

By explaining what I know about the life cycle of B. dorsalis, I’m able to teach tactics like orchard and market sanitation that can ultimately decrease the pest population. Senegalese mango growers assure me of the value of my research. “Your work is important for our country. Please keep up the hard work and continue what you’re doing,” they tell me. Their sentiments encourage me to try my best to discover solutions to protect this valuable fruit.

Together, we load a truck with mangoes.

Here I am helping to load a truck with mangoes for the local markets. I am at right, with the orange baseball cap.

My current fieldwork and research on mangoes is a prime example of the back and forth learning process that takes place when I’m out and about meeting with food producers. I’m currently conducting lab work in the DPV* laboratory in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. My field excursions take place in the Niayes zone (an area north of Dakar) and the Casamance (the part of Senegal below Gambia) – both different in terms of climate and vegetation. I’ve noticed that orchards in Casamance in particular are highly infested by B. dorsalis.

My goals are to determine the impact of B. dorsalis on mango production and commercialization and to identify the effect of selected organic pesticides on the behavior and survival of this population. My long-term aim is to improve business and quality of life for my compatriots in Senegal.  In doing these things, I will be meeting another goal of mine: to continue learning.

*DPV: Le Département de Protection Végétaux, or Department of Plant Protection

This post is the first in a series of posts written by graduate students supported by programs that OIRED manages.

The second one is: Feeding the future begins with hometown roots.

The third one is: South Sudan, a land of undiscovered potential.

The fourth one is: Not always a jolly holiday in South Sudan.

For another post on mango, read Larry Vaughan’s post on Weeping Mango.


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  1. Oumoule Ndiaye
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    You are doing a good job my dear.
    Here is what we need to do to enhance our local product quality and help the local producers in this sector.
    This research can help improve rural economic development and prosperity, and enhance food security. This could have important effects for Senegal’s economy.

  2. Thioro Fall
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Very informative post. Is the high impact of the mango fly in Casamance due to its climate particularly the humidity or other factors are involved?

  3. Aissatou
    Posted September 8, 2015 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Great work Assa. Keep it up.

  4. Rema
    Posted September 10, 2015 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    congratulations my sister big up n good blesss you

    • Assa Balayara
      Posted September 14, 2015 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Thank you Ndeye, I appreciate it

  5. Assa Balayara
    Posted September 11, 2015 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Hello Oumoule, Thioro and Aissatou
    Thank you for your comment, I appreciate it.
    Yes, Thioro. The climate (long rainy season), the availability of different kinds of fruits along the year, and orchard type (huge mango trees) are some factors that make Casamance’s orchard highly infested by Bactrocera dorsalis (oriental fruit fly).

    Thank you

  6. Lamine DIOUF
    Posted September 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Maman Bineta and father are proud of you. We encourage you and wish you full success in this huge project. We love you.

    • Assa Balayara
      Posted September 14, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Thank you honey.
      You and Bineta make me stronger.
      I love you too
      Thank for your support.


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