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Open Access Research

Agriculture and the promotion of insect pests: rice cultivation in river floodplains and malaria vectors in The Gambia

Lamin BS Jarju1, Ulrike Fillinger2, Clare Green3, Vasilis Louca3, Silas Majambere4 and Steven W Lindsay3*

Author Affiliations

1 National Malaria Control Programme, Banjul, the Gambia

2 Disease Control & Vector Biology Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

3 School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, Durham, UK

4 Ifakara Health Institute, Dares Salaam, Tanzania

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Malaria Journal 2009, 8:170  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-8-170

Published: 27 July 2009

Abstract

Background

Anthropogenic modification of natural habitats can create conditions in which pest species associated with humans can thrive. In order to mitigate for these changes, it is necessary to determine which aspects of human management are associated with the promotion of those pests. Anopheles gambiae, the main Africa malaria vector, often breeds in rice fields. Here the impact of the ancient practice of 'swamp rice' cultivation, on the floodplains of the Gambia River, on the production of anopheline mosquitoes was investigated.

Methods

Routine surveys were carried out along 500 m transects crossing rice fields from the landward edge of the floodplains to the river during the 2006 rainy season. Aquatic invertebrates were sampled using area samplers and emergence traps and fish sampled using nets. Semi-field experiments were used to investigate whether nutrients used for swamp rice cultivation affected mosquito larval abundance.

Results

At the beginning of the rainy season rice is grown on the landward edge of the floodplain; the first area to flood with fresh water and one rich in cattle dung. Later, rice plants are transplanted close to the river, the last area to dry out on the floodplain. Nearly all larval and adult stages of malaria vectors were collected 0–100 m from the landward edge of the floodplains, where immature rice plants were grown. These paddies contained stagnant freshwater with high quantities of cattle faeces. Semi-field studies demonstrated that cattle faeces nearly doubled the number of anopheline larvae compared with untreated water.

Conclusion

Swamp rice cultivation creates ideal breeding sites for malaria vectors. However, only those close to the landward edge harboured vectors. These sites were productive since they were large areas of standing freshwater, rich in nutrients, protected from fish, and situated close to human habitation, where egg-laying mosquitoes from the villages had short distances to fly. The traditional practice of 'swamp rice' cultivation uses different bodies of water on the floodplains to cultivate rice during the rainy season. A consequence of this cultivation is the provizion of ideal conditions for malaria vectors to thrive. As the demand for locally-produced rice grows, increased rice farming will generate great numbers of vectors; emphasizing the need to protect local communities against malaria.