It is a large cricket of the genus Schistocerca gregaria with a purplish body and a pair of enquiring antennae. No great surprise that it does not like being raised in this glass cage while outside lemon trees, vines and vegetables grow in the warm Cypriot sunshine. But the reason it is here is that a few months previously fellow members of this species landed from who knows where to feast on the local culinary delights. To combat this sudden invasion, agronomists at the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) decided to set up a rearing scheme.
Schistocerca gregaria – a current target for researchers at the ARI. Familiarly known as desert locusts, these insects invade arid regions, mainly in Asia and Africa. They can adapt to a range of environments and reproduce at a staggering rate – which spells disaster for the harvest.
This ability to respond quickly to the emergence of new problems is typical of the ARI, one of Cyprus’ leading research organisations. With a team of 70 researchers and many hundreds of publications to its credit, this recognised EU centre of excellence is expanding its competences in many fields linked to agriculture and the environment. One such field is water management, a subject of major regional concern in terms of sustainable development. “For many years now there has not been a single drop of irrigation water circulating in an open-air system anywhere on the island,” explains a proud Ioannis Papadopoulos, Director of the Institute. “It is all piped and the drip-type method ensures the system is as economic as possible. Our water transfer efficiency is over 90%.” That is a figure that beats most of the major agricultural countries in temperate Europe.
The ARI is also interested in any agricultural developments in the Mediterranean countries in general, such as the use of salt or waste water, management of the resulting heavy metal problems, or accurately determining the water requirements of various plants. These studies are often carried out within the framework of European programmes, such as Hortimed or Irrisplit. The institute also seeks to be active in new and emerging fields. Molecular biology is frequently employed, for example, and the ARI researchers are currently developing a flock of sheep and goats of the local homozygous race so as to produce a gene that resists scrapies, a BSE-related disease that is much feared by livestock farmers.
Various programmes are also concentrating on biological farming. “For a number of years now the ARI has been trying to respond to society’s demands to reduce the use of pesticides, both for environmental reasons and in the interests of food safety,” explains Nicos Ioannou, Director of the ARI’s Plant Protection Department. This is not easy in a hot climate in which pests flourish. Each major crop has its own parasite – and often more than one. The strategy of breeding useful insects has produced some interesting results that are well suited to the local climate and are enabling a considerable reduction in the use of chemicals. For example, a particularly voracious caterpillar with a taste for citrus fruits, Phyllocnistis citrella, would be ill-advised to take up residence on Cyprus where its four principal wasp parasites have been introduced and are being bred at the ARI laboratories. The researcher’s insectariums also contain a number of acaridans (Phytoseiulus persimilis) and coleopters (Orius sp.) that prey on the various parasites.
RPF: an independent foundation
Cypriot research benefits from the assistance of the Research Promotion Foundation, set up in 1996. A non-government organisation – although established by the state and still dependent on state subsidies – it is managed by an independent steering committee. This ensures a high degree of ...
Cypriot research benefits from the assistance of the Research Promotion Foundation, set up in 1996. A non-government organisation – although established by the state and still dependent on state subsidies – it is managed by an independent steering committee. This ensures a high degree of flexibility, offering it the scope to promote and facilitate scientific research in many ways. The RPF directly finances certain projects by launching calls for tenders – in this way about 20 million CYP(1) is being allocated for the 2003-2005 period. The Foundation also facilitates contacts between Cypriot researchers and the major European programmes (Framework Programme, COST, Eumedis) as well as promoting bilateral agreements, in particular with France, Austria, Slovenia and Germany. Finally, it seeks to foster relations with Cypriot researchers working abroad, drawing on their skills and networks to facilitate the work of their compatriots.
(1) The Cypriot pound (CYP) is currently worth €1.7 (May 2005).