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Kenyan experts to receive training on invasive mealy-bug pest

Kenya will be among nine countries whose diagnostic experts will be trained to detect a new invasive mealy-bug pest that has arrived in the Eastern Africa sub region, called the Mango Mealy- bug.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Natural History Museum, London, UK and the Centre of Phytosanitary Excellence (COPE) are this week training 18 diagnostic experts from the nine countries that comprise the FAO Eastern Africa sub-region.

The Purpose of the training that will see Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda experts trained to build diagnostic capacity will see early detection and early identification of the pest, thus give the countries an advantage to launch early action and thereby mitigate the damaging effects of the pest.

According to FAO, boosting early warning, early detection and early response capacities in the Eastern Africa sub-region, is key to ensuring that we safeguard food security, reduce poverty, build resilience, enhance economic opportunities and build a better life for all.

KEPHIS Managing Director, Prof Theophilus Mutui, in a joint statement with FAO said that they will train personnel from the Ministries of Agriculture from each of the nine countries.

“The experts are tasked to learn the methods for field detection, sample collection, sample preparation, slide preparation and diagnosis of specimens of a range of mealy-bug species that are common to Eastern Africa,” he said.

The knowledge gained at the training, he added, will aid in boosting the early detection and response capacities of the countries as the Mango Mealy-bug spreads throughout Eastern Africa.

Mutui explained that Mealy bugs are common on food crops, fruits, ornamentals and forest trees and are easily spread through international trade in plant materials.

“The damage they cause can be devastating, leading to crop loss, restricted market access and increased cost of production. These pests can be easily overlooked due to their small size, cryptic habits and because they do not resemble most other insects,” he noted.

The MD confirmed that management of mealy bugs is difficult as they develop resistance to conventional control products saying that in recent years, they have become major pests, with new introductions of invasive species like papaya mealy-bug, cotton mealy-bug and now the mango mealy-bug, which has been reported in Rwanda.

The pest was first detected in 2019 in Rwanda and according to FAO, the pest has since spread to Uganda and Burundi and as parts of its efforts, FAO has engaged partners on identification of mealy-bugs and their parasitoids (natural enemies) through funding an emergency response project for the three countries; Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda to combat the impact of the mango mealy-bug.

In Kenya, as well as in other countries of the sub-region, FAO warns that it is important that the Ministries of Agriculture remain vigilant and conduct surveys of urban and rural areas to detect as early as possible the presence of the Mango Mealy-bug.

The general population, they say in the statement, should be made aware to be on the lookout for the new pest as in almost all cases, mango mealybug appears in urban settings suggesting the link to humans as an effective factor in spreading the pests from one location to another.

“The general population is therefore encouraged to observe plants in their domiciles or farms and report promptly any suspicion of Mango Mealy bug infestation that they may suspect. It is only with specialized diagnostic confirmation that the presence of the Mango Mealy bug can be made and thereby, the relevant action to control its spread can be taken,” FAO says.

According to FAO, it is not a matter of “IF” mango mealy bug will arrive in Kenya and other Eastern Africa countries but a matter of “WHEN”.

Mutui said Kenya through KEPHIS is committed to collaboration that contributes to the reduction of plant health risks; helps minimize trade costs by making trade in plants, plant products and regulated articles more transparent and efficient; allowing goods to move more smoothly between markets.

“It is my appeal to the other National Plant Protection Organizations in the region that we shall collaborate and partner in the management of invasive mealy bugs. We recognize the limitations of available resources and structures that have led to challenges in the management of invasive species most of which require countrywide and regional management,” he said.

Mutui however noted that this can only be overcome through coordinated and comprehensive collaboration, partnerships and sharing of information that will facilitate preventing the introduction, spread and establishment mealy bug pests. 

According to experts, the introduction of the Mango Mealy bug poses a new challenge to agriculture, particularly since the only effective means of control is to use biological control, that is, the introduction of an organism that feeds on the mealy bugs.

Since mealy -bugs cover their bodies and eggs with a waxy material, conventional control using water-soluble pesticides is ineffective and the rapid development of the colonies also leads to rapid buildup of resistance to pesticides.

FAO is taking action by raising awareness of the threat of the mango mealy bug across Eastern Africa, training relevant staff of the Eastern Africa sub-region to identify mealy bug species in their territories and specifically the Mango Mealy bug and also boosting capacity for early detection in agricultural and urban areas.

FAO will further be facilitating the importation and release of the effective biological agents following a strict adherence for scientific review of the safety of introduction of new organisms into the territories of the affected countries and ensure that the sub-region has the capacity to mass rear the parasitoids for easy access and rapid response.

Meanwhile, papaya maybug is currently also spreading across Eastern Africa and hampering papaya production efforts and with the rapid development of the colonies also leading to rapid buildup of resistance to pesticides, it’s advisable that everyone is aware that the use of pesticides is not recommended.

Sustainable management of these pests is through natural control agents which also leads to compliance to food safety standards in the local and international markets and thus increased market access.

Kenya has approved the importation of the Acerophagus papayae parasitoid from Ghana for the classical release for the management of the papaya mealy bug and recognizes that this is a potentially more sustainable and environmentally a friendly solution to management of this pest.

According to KEPHISMealy bug thrive in dry conditions, prefers feeding on Mango but can also attack a wide variety of plants including bananas. They attack the roots of certain species of plants, leaves of plants as well as fruits but can extend to branches, limbs and trunks of trees particularly when infestation levels are high and the most efficient mechanism for spread of mealy bugs is human activity.

Gardeners tending plants in urban areas will spread them by contamination of their equipment; farmers through constant contact with their plants and the movement of planting material; nurseries through the distribution of infested live plants and the general movement of people in urban and rural areas who inadvertently brush against an infested plant, picking up the crawlers and transporting them to new areas.

Mutui explained that Mealy bug, tend to produce lots of eggs during their lifetime of about three months. The babies (crawlers) are highly mobile and they tend to fall off the infested plants and hitch rides on anything they may fall on then moving to new locations therefore increasing spread of the pest.

He adds that due to the size of the mealy bugs, about 1 millimetre in length, they tend to not get noticed until they form large colonies (in the millions).

Mango production in the sub-region is an important economic activity. In the eighties and nineties, Mango mealy bug arrived in Africa and caused significant losses of up to 80 percent losses which were reported throughout Central and Western Africa.

By Wangari Ndirangu

 

 

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