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Apple Snail Invasion Serious Threat to Rice Production and Food Security in Kenya

Left: Destructive adults snails. Right: An egg clusters patched on rice tillers. A cluster has approximately 250 eggs confirming the significance of the pest. (Image Courtesy, Kephis)

A recent study conducted by CABI sheds light on the alarming consequences of the apple snail invasion on rice production and food security in Kenya and other rice-growing regions across Africa. Led by Kate Constantine, a Project Scientist at CABI, the research emphasizes the severity of the problem posed by the apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) in Kenya’s Mwea Irrigation Scheme. The invasive species has become a major concern for farmers, with agro-dealers reporting that 70% of daily complaints are related to this pest.

Devastating Impact on Rice Yields and Income

Through extensive research involving household surveys, focus group discussions with smallholder farmers, and interviews with key informants, the researchers discovered that the South American native apple snail can lead to a significant reduction in rice yields and income. Infestations of moderate levels (>20% of the cultivated area affected) can cause rice yields to plummet by up to 14% and net rice income to drop by as much as 60%.

Urgency of Implementing Control Strategies

The study highlights the urgency of implementing effective strategies to curb the spread of the apple snail. These strategies must involve awareness-raising, outreach efforts, and capacity-building at all levels of the farming system. Approximately 300,000 small-scale farmers in Kenya are involved in rice cultivation, with the Mwea Irrigation Scheme alone accounting for 80-88% of the country’s rice production.

Priority Value Chain for Food Security and Development

Rice has been identified as a priority value chain in the National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP 2018-2028) and National Rice Development Strategy-2 (2019-2030). With the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture & Livestock Development projecting rice consumption to increase to 1,292,000 tons by 2030, transforming the rice sector is crucial for sustainable food and nutrition security and socio-economic development.

Challenges in Rice Production

Despite the growth in demand for rice, farmers in Mwea face numerous challenges, including water shortages, rice blast attacks, high input costs, low land productivity, machinery shortages, bird damage, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to resilient and suitable rice varieties.

Mitigating the Apple Snail Menace

In response to the apple snail invasion, a Multi-Institutional Technical Team (MITT) has been established, comprising representatives from various national and international institutions. The team is leading management efforts and providing consolidated advice to farmers on effective pest control measures.

Urgent Action Required

Farmers have been forced to increase chemical usage and resort to labor-intensive practices, such as physically removing egg masses and snails, to combat the apple snail. However, the researchers stress the need for urgent action, as the negative impacts of the snail will escalate if its spread is not contained or eradicated early on.

Grave Food Security Implications

The consequences of the apple snail invasion could be disastrous not only for farmers in Mwea but also for regions beyond. If the snail spreads to the irrigated rice-production area of Ahero, located at the edge of Lake Victoria, rice production in Tanzania and Uganda would be at risk, leading to further spread.

Preserving Kenya’s Rice Self-Sufficiency

Apple snail invasion poses serious food security implications and threatens to undermine Kenya’s progress towards rice self-sufficiency. It is crucial to take immediate measures to mitigate its spread and protect the livelihoods of rice farmers.

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