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Giant African Snail closer to ‘food basket’ region

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

During the course of January, over 20,000 Giant African snails were collected in farming districts in Mt Lambert, just north of the Aranguez “food basket” community.  Local authorities had previously successfully contained the aggressive invasive species for more than five years in the Diego Martin area. They are potentially disease-carrying creatures that pose a threat to domestic agriculture.  



This was revealed yesterday at a CABI International workshop on Invasive Alien Species (IAS) by Ministry of Food Production entomologist, Allan Balfour. There was also evidence that the pest had also made its way to Moka Heights in Maraval, where 266 snails were collected by the end of February. Balfour said the relocation of landfill rubble and the movement of other material out of the Diego Martin “containment zone” was largely responsible for the breach.


He added that legislation was needed to more effectively apply quarantine and other measures to minimise the movement of the invasive species throughout the country. Balfour also cited “a lack of consistent staff and resources” at the ministry together with “a lack of funds and approval to produce new television advertisements with new messages” on the threat posed by the snail. 



The Diego Martin containment project of the ministry comprised an extensive public awareness programme that had been highly commended in many quarters. Some agricultural experts had however long concluded that would only be a matter of time before the pest reached other parts of the country.  The species was first detected in Diego Martin in 2008 and an eradication programme based on US Department of Agriculture guidelines launched. 


The main elements of the programme were baiting, collecting and monitoring; public awareness, surveillance, sanitation and the use of legislation.  A cost-benefit analysis discussed at yesterday’s workshop suggested that while full eradication should be pursued, a pest management approach would yield more favourable cost-benefit results. “Management yields the highest benefit-cost ratio,” Balfour told the workshop. He however described it as the best option only when there were “limited resources”.


 In 2010, the Giant African snail was declared “a notifiable agricultural pest”. Under the Plant Protection Act, a failure to notify authorities about the presence of a pest may carry a fine of up to $5,000. Balfour said public awareness about the pest and its likely impacts were among the most effective strategies to deal with the problem.  He said the use of baits/poisons to destroy the snail had been effective and did not threaten the far less aggressive and hardy indigenous species. 


“More than 99 per cent of the snails are of the Giant African variety,” Balfour said when questioned about the threat baits might pose to other harmless species.


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