Apple snails could devastate rice production in Kenya and beyond

A new study led by Kate Constantine at CABI warns that an invasion of apple snails could have disastrous consequences for rice production and food security in Kenya and other rice-growing regions across Africa.

The researchers focused on Kenya’s Mwea Irrigation Scheme, where apple snails have become a serious problem. They found that the invasive species, originally from South America, reduced rice yields by up to 14% and net rice income by up to 60% for farmers experiencing moderate infestation.

To combat this threat, the scientists emphasize the urgent need for strategies to limit the spread of apple snails, including awareness campaigns, outreach, and capacity building within the farming community.

Rice is a crucial crop in Kenya, involving around 300,000 small-scale farmers and contributing significantly to their livelihoods. The country’s National Agriculture Investment Plan and National Rice Development Strategy have identified rice as a priority value chain for sustainable food security and economic development.

However, the introduction of apple snails has exacerbated the challenges faced by rice farmers, including water shortages, pest attacks, high input costs, and poor infrastructure. If left unchecked, the spread of apple snails could pose serious threats not only to Kenya’s rice production but also to neighboring countries like Tanzania and Uganda.

To tackle the issue, a Multi-Institutional Technical Team has been established to lead management efforts and provide guidance to farmers on combating the pest. Farmers have been resorting to increased chemical use and costly manual labor to remove snails and egg masses.

The researchers warn that if action is not taken promptly, the consequences could be severe, impacting food security and self-sufficiency in rice production in Kenya and beyond. The window of opportunity to contain or eradicate the apple snail invasion is rapidly closing.

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