By Sharon Atieno

With the Golden Apple Snail (GAS) pest spreading across the entire Mwea Irrigations scheme, stakeholders have called for urgent action to prevent further spread of the pest to other schemes across the country.

The stakeholders include Mwea Irrigation and Agricultural Development (MIAD), the Pest Control Product Board (PCPB), the National Irrigation Authority (NIA), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS),Capacity Development Project for Enhancement of Rice Production (CADPERP), the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology  (icipe) and the county government of Kirinyaga among others.

They were speaking in a consultative workshop convened by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) in collaboration with the State Department for Crop Development – Plant Protection and Food Safety Directorate.

Stakeholders during a scoping field visit in Mwea Irrigation scheme

According to the stakeholders, merchandised service providers pose the biggest threat since they can easily transport the snail as they move their equipment from the Mwea Irrigation scheme to western Kenya where the rest of the schemes are located.

In Mwea irrigation scheme, Daudi Aleri, research officer, MIAD said mechanical transportation and use of combined harvesters may have exacerbated the spread of the snails in the area.

It is from this, that the stakeholders have raised concerns that the shared equipment such as harvesters used within the schemes may lead to the spread of the snails from Mwea to Ahero, Bunyala and west Kano irrigation schemes in the western part of the country.

The snail pest was officially reported in the Mwea Irrigation scheme in February 2020. GAS, a major problem of rice, is estimated to cause more than 50% yield loss if no control measures are taken.

Farmers in the region have reported incurring increased costs of production as a result of the pest, with some farmers reporting re-planting seedlings up to four times to replace those eaten by the pest.

To manage the pest population, NIA-MIAD working with the county government of Kirinyaga have sensitized farmers and they are currently using cultural methods such as levelling their fields and alternative wetting and drying technique used just before the rice crop establishes.

A snail in a flooded rice field

After an initial molecular analysis and identification of the GAS by KEPHIS and CABI, PCPB has trailed an effective chemical to combat the pest and is in the final stages of approval.

“The preliminary results were very impressive and the product was able to significantly manage the pest,” Vincent Koskei, Research Officer, MIAD, revealed noting that the trial was done in a confined environment.

Scholastica Musila, PCPB, Mount Kenya Regional Office mentioned that deliberations are ongoing and the product will be availed soon.

Meanwhile, she cautioned farmers against using pesticides which have not been approved by PCPB to control the pests, highlighting that some of them are banned in the country and may have negative impacts on the farmers with a spill over on the consumers.

Upcoming mitigation efforts that the stakeholders agreed on include awareness campaigns and training, evaluations to assess the impact of the snail and all-round research to understand the snail’s behavior and spread in the region.