Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Myanmar: Agriculture ministry and IRRI join forces to combat apple snail invasion in rice fields

By Finbarr Horgan

Apple snails (Pomacea canaliculata and Pomacea maculata), which were introduced from South America as food source, have become one of the most damaging pests of rice throughout Southeast Asia. The introduced snails rapidly spread to Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, southern China, Japan and the Philippines in the 1980s. Their presence has been recorded in Myanmar since the early 2000s, but until recently were restricted to the mountainous Shan and Kachin States.  Between 2011 and 2012, the snails first appeared in the rice growing regions of Mon and Kayin States and in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta–Myanmar’s principal rice growing region.

On 6 June 2015, a workshop designed to tackle the threat posed by apple snails was held at the Plant Protection Division (PPD) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MOAI) in Yangon. The workshop, with over 20 participants, was opened by Dr. Pyone Pyone Kyi, deputy director of PPD.

The workshop also featured the symposium Managing apple snails in Myanmar rice: reducing damage, preventing spread, and protecting native biodiversity. During the symposium, Dr. Finbarr Horgan,  entomologist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), discussed apple snail ecology and presented a management strategy for controlling the pest. Mr. Aung Ko Win, a student at Yezin Agricultural University, presented his preliminary findings on the distribution of apple snails in southern Myanmar while Dr. Khin War War from Yangon University and an expert in microsnails presented her observations on apple snail distribution in Myanmar lakes.

Updates on the status of apple snail infestation in Kayin State, Mon State, and Ayeyarwaddy Delta were provided by Mr. Khun Mg Mg (assistant director, PPD), Mr. Aung Zaw Maing (PPD), and Mr. Win Soe (MOAI), respectively. Infestation trends in the Ayeryarwaddy Delta were the most worrisome. Mr. Win Soe’s data indicated a 6 fold increase in damage at Dedaye Township between 2013 and 2014, with new focal infestations at several other locations in 2014. It appears that the snail is spreading rapidly and is set to change rice farming practices in Myanmar for the foreseeable future.

A crucial part of the workshop was an apple snail management plan prepared by participants and experts. The management plan is designed to 1) fill knowledge gaps, 2) improve snail management in affected areas, 3) improve preparedness in vulnerable areas, 4) develop education programs for extension officers, quarantine personnel and rice farmers, 5) improve quarantine policy, and 6) conserve native snail species that are likely to be displaced by the invader.

The management plan, together with didactic materials, will be available in a document to be prepared by IRRI and the PPD. 

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