EASTERN AFRICA – The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), regulatory agency responsible for assurance on the quality of agriculture inputs and produce, are training 18 diagnostic experts from the nine countries that comprise the FAO Eastern Africa sub-region, to detect a new invasive mealy-bug pest that has arrived in the Eastern Africa sub region, called the Mango Mealy- bug.

This is in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Natural History Museum, London, UK and the Centre of Phytosanitary Excellence (COPE).

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.

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, this 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.

He added that the knowledge gained at the training, 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. They attack the roots, 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.

“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.

Concerted efforts needed to mitigate Mealy bug

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

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.

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.

It 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.

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