The papaya mealybug is a pest of the fruit, which originated from Central America before spreading to the Caribbean and South America in the 1990s. Heavy infestations cause stunting, leaf yellowing, leaf curl and early fruit drop. Fruits and stems may be completely covered by a white layer of mealybugs and wax secretions. Affected fruits’ tissue underneath the mealybug colonies becomes hard and bitter.
“More than half of Kenya has been invaded by the papaya mealybug. And its impact has led to some farmers abandoning growing the fruit altogether,” said Mr Fernadis Makale. He is an Invasive Species Management Assistant based at CABI’s Kenya centre in Nairobi. He is part of a team of CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International).
Additionally, to enhance control of this devastating pest, researchers from CABI shared their expertise on the pest’s management. This came as part of a new multiagency technical brief addressing the description, identification and its sustainable management.
In addition, the brief contains the latest advice for papaya mealybug management. It will support the development of a range of information materials for extension workers, agro-dealers, and farmers.
Work on the ground
Furthermore, a technical team from a range of partners has reviewed the document. It included representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Industry, etc. As well as members from Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale county governments. Others are the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri) etc.
“The technical brief is the culmination of shared expertise across many partners, with the same aim of tackling this devastating pest of the papaya fruit. A key crop for many smallholder farmers in Kenya who rely on for their livelihoods,” said Dr Monica Kansiime. She is a scientist and agricultural economist at CABI’s centre in Nairobi.
“It also stems from multi-stakeholder workshops, co-financed by Darwin Initiative-funded Project the CABI-led Plant wise, and CABI’s Action on Invasive programmes.”
In 2017, SciDev.Net reported how pawpaw farmers in Pakistan averted a near-complete devastation of the country’s papaya crop. The mealybug pest, is what ravaged the crops.
The intervention was made possible through CABI’s papaya pest management programme. Further, this program involved researchers setting up the Natural Enemies Field Reservoirs on farmers’ fields. This effort was to breed the Acerophagus papaya parasitoid as well as eight other natural predators of the mealybug. Mr Joshua Oluyali, head horticulturist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, said the government appreciates the work done by CABI. Moreover, it will provide the necessary support for the management of the pest in pawpaw’s to stop the spread and reduce losses caused by the pest.
More on what is being done to tackle the papaya mealybug HERE.