Antiguans and Barbudans yawned when they heard the news that the Ministry of Agriculture was launching yet another Giant African Snail (Achatina fulica) education and eradication campaign, dubbed A CALL TO ACTION. “Chupz” or “What else is new” was the verbiage heard in St. John’s and elsewhere.
You see folks, we have been down this slippery, slimy road before, with limited success. For example, last year, there was a snail-buying campaign where the Plant Protection Unit (PPU) paid some $2 per pound for snails. Unfortunately, the campaign petered out and eventually died a natural death, reportedly because bounty-hunters were not being paid. There was also a sale of snail bait to besieged homeowners and farmers at the Central Marketing Corporation, but that too fizzled after buyers complained of the high price.
And so it goes – life as it is lived here in our bit of Paradise – education/eradication campaign after education/eradication campaign; year in, year out. Grand pronouncements and photo ops by officials with a grave-sounding affect. And still the Giant African Snail survives, nay, thrives, because notwithstanding the periodic hullaballoo, the officials are not serious. Their education/eradication effort is always underfunded, never unrelenting, and generally unfocused. It is much like Wile E Coyote who vainly employs the same bag of ACME tricks to catch the Roadrunner, with the same dreadful results. He is often driven to the brink of madness. And so are we, because we’re doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Well, actually, this new education/eradication effort — a mere three months in duration, mind you, is being called in not so many words, the mother of all education/eradication campaigns. After all, there will be six town hall meetings, materials will be provided to assist community efforts to combat the pest, and there will be a public education question-and-answer initiative. There will also be a survey to measure the impact of the snail on communities. Oh, and we forgot to mention that this new initiative, that saw the Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Dean Jonas and the Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Janil Gore-Francis, wax bland with the ‘same-old same-old’ platitudes on the supposed efficacy of this new effort, will be funded by … well, … all of US $10,000 from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). Sigh! Forgive us if we are not turning cartwheels and chanting Te Deum Laudamus (Latin, “Thee, O God, we praise!”)
For one thing, we believe that the three-month campaign is way too short. What’s needed is a sustained, concerted effort. Three months is a joke! The Giant Snail education/eradication campaign must be an ongoing process — continuing education, if you will, and the only timeline for ending it should be when all the slimy critters are completely gone. Three months is akin to playing hide-and-seek with the snails. Then there is absurd notion that US $10,000 will suffice to make a significant dent in the burgeoning snail population. By the time that administrative costs, overheads, and all the talk-shops and other things that governments do when spending money that is not their own, are factored in, the US$10,000 will be gone.
Having said that, we submit that the budget for the education/eradication of the snail population must be significantly increased. Moreover, the snail bait should be distributed free of cost, or at a greatly-reduced price. The snail-bounty campaign should be brought back, but with an increase in the price per pound for captured snails. Plus, officials from our PPU should network with similar agencies around the world that are affected by Achatina fulica and ascertain what works and what does not. Lastly, but by no means leastly, the PPU should dispatch a small army to place bait in culverts, drains, swaps, wooded areas, empty lots where snails have made their abode. These creatures eat almost everything. They sleep during the day and become active at nights. They are so cunning, that they burrow into the ground to escape predators, and of course, bounty-hunters. They have a life-span of between 5-7 years, lay as many as 200 eggs ever so often, and are a clear and present threat to life and limb, property, farms, and our ecosystem. In fact, the Giant African Snail is listed among the 100 most harmful invasive species in the world. They must be eradicated! And a three-month education campaign with US $10,000 is certainly not going to cut it. That’s merely scratching the snail’s back … er, shell. Education must be in conjunction with a prolonged physical, robust removal of these dangerous molluscs.
We wish the Plant Protection Unit and the Ministry of Agriculture all the best in this new campaign, never mind that we see it as woefully inadequate. We do not wish to be ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’ (William Safire), but we very much fear that we will be hearing Dr Janil Gore-Francis repeat the words that she used to describe earlier failed campaigns, “[It] did not take off as expected.” And of course, the good Minister of Agriculture will be haplessly shrugging his shoulders and repeating, “I would really like to see this under control.” You don’t say!