Juice sucking insects attack crops in 3 Mt Kenya counties

Thursday June 27 2019

Mealybugs on papayas in a farm in Tharaka-Nithi County. The juice sucking insects have destroyed crops in the counties of Meru, Tharaka-Nithi and Embu leaving farmers worried. PHOTO | ALEX NJERU | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Farmers in Mt Kenya counties of Meru, Tharaka-Nithi and Embu are a worried lot after mealybugs, insects which feed on plant juices, invaded farms.

The insects are wreaking havoc on almost all types of crops including livestock pasture

The pests belonging to the family Pseudococcidae which live together in clusters, are attacking fruits, flowers, leaves, pods, and stems of small crops sucking the sap, turning them black and eventually making them to dry.

In Marima in Tharaka-Nithi County, Julius Mutembei has lost all his papaya fruits on his one-acre farm to the insects, leaving him counting losses estimated at almost half a million shillings.


Speaking to the Nation, Mr Mutembei said he started noticing some small insects covered by whitish substance on his fruits two weeks ago and in less than one week, all the papayas had turned black.


“I have lost my papayas, from which I had projected to earn at least Sh500,000, to the insects,” said Mr Mutembei.

Ms Nancy Kagendo from Tunyai in Tharaka South Sub-County has also lost half an acre of papaya fruits and an acre of peas to the insects in less than two weeks.

Ms Kagendo told the Nation that both the papayas and the peas were on the flowering stage when they were attacked by the insects.

“I first noticed some flowers on the ground and when I looked closely, I realised that there were some insects covered by a whitish substance in almost all trees and in less than two weeks, all the flowers had fallen off,” said Ms Kagendo.


Ndagani Assistant Chief Charles Njagi has lost all his nippier grass and his neighbour, Mrs Kaguna Mbuba, will harvest nothing from her lemon, macadamia, cassava and banana farm.

Mr Nicholas Mokaya, agricultural officer in charge of Chuka and Igambang’ombe sub-counties, said the outbreak mostly on the upper parts of the three counties, is as a result of climatic change.

He said the insects are very dangerous to crops because they suck sap and excrete the excess sugars as a substance called honeydew, which facilitates the development of a sooty mould and also act as vectors for various plant diseases.

“Some farmers have lost everything but a team of agricultural experts led by plant doctors are going round the villages enlightening farmers on how to control the pests,” said Mr Mokaya.


He said the whitish masses which cover the insects make it difficult to eradicate them and advised farmers to mix insecticides available in agrovet shops with washing detergents when spraying so that the soap can help stick the chemical to the plants for some time.

He added that some farmers have also reported that they have eradicated the insects by spraying them with baking powder and tobacco.

The mealybugs are sexually dimorphic – females are wingless while males are smaller and have wings and do not undergo a complete metamorphosis.

An individual mealybug may take approximately 30 days to grow through all the stages under normal conditions.

The pest is a big threat to food security considering that the region has received very little rainfall in the current season.