Apple snail invasion could be ‘disastrous’ for rice production and food security in Kenya, study reveals

Apple snail invasion could be 'disastrous' for rice production and food security in Kenya, study reveals
Golden apple snail laying eggs. Credit: Jpatokal, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

An invasion of apple snail could be “disastrous” for rice production and food security in Kenya as well as other rice growing regions across Africa, according to a new CABI-led study published in the journal Pest Management Science.

The scientists, led by Kate Constantine, Project Scientist at CABI, highlight apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) as a serious problem in Kenya’s Mwea Irrigation Scheme. Extension agents stated apple snail is one of farmers’ top five complaints and agro-dealers reported that 70% of complaints on a daily basis were due to apple snail.

Household surveys and focus group discussions with smallholder farmers, alongside key informant interviews, revealed the invasive species—which is native to South America—reduced rice yields by up to 14% and net rice income by up to 60% for farmers experiencing moderate levels of infestation (>20% of cultivated area affected).

The researchers stress that it is “essential” that strategies to limit the spread of apple snail are rapidly implemented. This includes, the scientists say, raising awareness, outreach and capacity building at all levels of the farming system.

In Kenya, around 300,000 small-scale farmers are involved in rice cultivation, not only providing labor but also earning their livelihood, with the Mwea Irrigation Scheme in Kirinyaga County accounting for 80-88% of the country’s rice production.

The Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture & Livestock Development predicts that rice consumption will reach 1,292,000 tons by 2030. As a result, 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), which aims to transform Kenya’s agriculture towards sustainable food and nutrition security and socio-economic development.

However, there is considerable untapped potential to expand rice production in the country, with estimates suggesting a production potential of up to 1.3 million hectares of irrigated rice.

Constantine said, “Rice…