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[BOGOTA] A Colombian entomologist has won one of his country's top science awards for adopting an eco-friendly approach to controlling a major pest of the country's main export crop, coffee.

Alex Enrique Bustillo-Pardey received the Science Merit Prize for research excellence from the Colombian Association for the Advancement of Science (ACAS) at a 1 December ceremony in Bogota.

The coffee berry borer is a prime threat to coffee crops — Colombia's most important export commodity after petroleum — and reduces the country's annual coffee production by up to 15 per cent.

For more than a decade, Bustillo-Pardey has headed the research group looking at ways of combating the insect at the National Centre for Coffee Research, known as Cenicafé.

"The design of an integrated management programme for the berry borer in coffee, which included biological, cultural and post-harvest control, as well as compatible agricultural practices, has led to the massive use of it in coffee plantations with excellent results," says ACAS jury member Elizabeth Castañeda, announcing the prize.

Bustillo-Pardey has devoted his professional life to controlling crop pests using ecological methods, instead of relying on chemical insecticides.

There were three more prizes and an honourable mention at the ACAS ceremony. The psychologist Rubén Ardila won the Life and Professional Work Award recognising 30 years of research and more than 200 publications in scientific journals, as well as 27 books.

The science popularisation award was shared by Alicia Rios-Hurtado, vice-rector of research of the Technological University of Chocó, in Quibdó, and the Friends of Astronomy Foundation, in Barranquilla.

Rios-Hurtado, a food scientist was honoured for helping to bring enterprise to her sparsely populated but biodiverse region, Chocó. With her fellow researchers, she implemented a science-based business model that local people are using with indigenous produce — such as the rainforest fruit borojó — by being able to preserve the produce long enough to export it.

Rios-Hurtado's co-winner, the Friends of Astronomy Foundation, was founded in 1990 in Barranquilla. It has developed a planetarium and an interactive science centre that serve not only the city, but also the northern region of Colombia. The foundation also organises an annual science fair.

The honourable mention award went to the Maloka Interactive Centre for Science and Technology in Bogota, which opened in 1998.

The ACAC created its Life and Professional Work Award in 1990, and since then has given the award annually to a Colombian scientist who has devoted their life to research and made substantial contribution in their field.

In 1994 the ACAC introduced the Science Merit Award to honour scientists who have had important results in the previous 10 years, and its Science And Technology Popularisation Award, to an individual and institution that have made outstanding efforts to bring science to the public.