Warning that an invasive species of snail could damage rice paddies across Cambodia, Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun is offering cash rewards to farmers who gather as many of the pests as possible.
Farmers who collect golden apple snails—a species of gastropod native to South America that feeds on newly-sprouted rice paddy seedlings—will receive payments of 300 riel per kilogram, Chan Sarun told farmers in Kampot province’s Chhuk district this week.
He cautioned farmers not to use pesticides to kill the snails because this will also kill other types of beneficial insects.
Instead, he urged farmers to collect adult snails by hand and transport ducks to newly transplanted rice fields to feast on the snails’ eggs.
That process is underway in the Philippines, where the snails have proven cheaper than pricey commercial feeds for mallard duck farmers, according to a World Bank report.
Besides bringing ducks into the paddies, Chan Sarun recommended that red ants—which also feed on the eggs—can help to deter the spread of the snail, infestations of which scientists say can destroy up to 60 percent of farmers’ rice crops.
Iv Phirun, with the Integrated Pest Management program, which works with the Ministry of Agriculture, said farmers can easily differentiate between the eggs of the golden apple snail and those of native snail species.
“The golden snail lays pink eggs and the local snail has white-colored eggs,” he said. He added that the invasive species arrived here about eight years ago.
The snail was introduced to the region around 25 years ago through the aquarium trade, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The species was first brought to Taiwan, where people stocked it in their aquariums to eat algae and scum on tank walls.
Eventually, someone suggested introducing the snail as a high protein supplement for the rural poor, according to the FAO. Government farm programs were set up in Taiwan and the Philippines to rear the snails for food.
However, scientists said the poor never took to eating the snails, and the farms were abandoned, allowing the snails to escape into waterways and irrigation canals.