Scientists at the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 launched a research on biological control of papaya mealybug in Kenya.
The scientists, together with partners, are out to find a natural enemy to the fight against invasive papaya mealybug pest that is scientifically known as paracoccus marginatus.
“We are keen at finding the solution to this pest that if left unmanaged, can devastate the whole fruit farm,” Fernadis Makale, an invasive species management assistant at CABI’s Kenya centre in Nairobi, said.
Makale said that, so far, in collaboration with Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), they conducted socio-economic and biological surveys to discover the spread and impact of the pest in the country.
He said that the researchers have found that more than half of Kenya has been invaded by papaya mealybug and the damage has led some papaya farmers to abandon farming the fruit altogether.
“They are currently considering whether or not the parasitoid acerophagus papaya from West Africa could be introduced as an effective biological control,” he said.
He added that findings to date show that a significant part of Kenya is now invaded by papaya mealybug hence damaging the fruit that is view as of economic importance to most populations who grow it survival.
Makale noted that so far researchers have collected samples and have been monitoring them for any emergence of parasitoids that could be used to fight the pest.
“Two Anagyrus spp. parasitoids have so far emerged and their true identity is being confirmed both morphologically and with molecular analysis,” he added.
He said that the researchers have also collected different papaya mealybug samples from different counties and are currently running molecular analysis to determine if there is any variation in strains which may make the biological control of the pest more complex.
Researchers are relying on CABI’s papaya pest management program that uses natural enemies’ field reservoirs on farmers’ fields to breed the Acerophagus papaya parasitoid as well as eight other natural predators of the papaya mealybug.
Papaya mealybug is a serious pest of the papaya fruit which originated from Central America before spreading to the Caribbean and South America in the 1990s.
The pest was first detected in Africa in 2010 in Ghana and in Mombasa County, Kenya, in 2016 and is since been spreading in the country.
Stakeholders in Kenya have reviewed the evidence of the impacts of papaya mealybug and how to best communicate the risks and Integrated Pest Management techniques to Kenya’s papaya farmers.
CABI is involved in the preparation of a papaya mealybug technical brief and other communication materials to aid the management of the pest in Kenya.
By Duncan Mboya