A new pest is quickly spreading along coastal areas near Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and has raised concerns of food insecurity in the region.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) says they have positively identified the insects which are wreaking havoc on papaya and cassava crops as the papaya mealybug (paracoccus marginatus.)
The pests, which appear as white fluffy spots on the underside of leaves and fruits, also feeds on hibiscus, frangipani, coffee, melon, tomato and cotton, among many others.
“Now that we know what we are dealing with, we need to act fast. The pest can easily spread throughout the East African region, causing major damage and threatening the food security and incomes of tens of thousands of Tanzanian farmers,” says IITA entomologist James Legg.
“Samples sent to IITA’s Biological Control Centre for Africa, located in Cotonou, Benin, have been positively identified as the papaya mealybug,” says Legg, who first noticed the pest in his own garden.
Legg says the papaya mealybug is currently one of the most destructive invasive insect species, which spreads in the wind, ants and is carried even further by unsuspecting people.
Plants affected by the sap-sucking mealybugs don’t grow properly, produce damaged fruit and may even die.