By Still Hardy
Published May 18, 2017
Unless urgently tackled, a rapidly spreading pest from the Americas shall rob Africa of an estimated US$3 Billion-worth of maize over the coming year.
The pest, known as the Fall armyworm, is reported to attack more than 80 different plant species, including maize on which more than 200 million sub-Saharan Africans depend.
Scientists attending a Stakeholders Consultation Meeting on the Fall Armyworm in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, say quick and coordinated action, a massive awareness campaign, scientific innovation and multi-institutional collaboration are required in tackling the menace.
“The truly frightening risk of the Fall armyworm to food security in Africa must be recognised and tackled with a holistic integrated pest management programme,” said BM Prasanna, Director of the Global Maize Programme at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR Research Programme on Maize. “We cannot eliminate the pest from Africa; now that it is here, it will stay, but we can provide support to farmers and provide options to manage their crops against the Fall armyworm.”
Dr Roger Day, sanitary and phytosanitary coordinator at the Centre for Agricultural and Biosciences International (CABI), estimates that Africa’s maize loss due to the Fall armyworm could amount to US$3 Billion in the coming year.
The Fall armyworm has been reported across southern, eastern, central and western Africa. The pest is in all southern African countries except except Lesotho; eastern Africa’s Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burundi; Western and Central African states like Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Congo-Kinshasa and the island country of Sao Tome Principe.
“The Fall Armyworm is a very recently-introduced pest in Africa and even the experts are unsure what its long-term impact will be,” says Joe DeVries, vice president in charge of programme development and innovation at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).”We’ve agreed on the urgency of enabling national plant protection groups to work with farmers in controlling the level of damage on their farms. Longer-term, though, only a truly collaborative effort between international and national agencies can provide a solution.”
Among the options explored by various governments is to provide emergency pesticides to smallholder farmers. But this costly option, experts say, can deliver only mixed success due to plant resistance to the chemicals used as well as poor application by farmers.
“The first step to an effective Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy is to survey and monitor pest movements, assess yield loss levels and compile data using remote sensing equipment at the field level,” said Gabriel Rugalema, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representative in Kenya. “Accumulated data can contribute to establishing uniform cross-continent government standards for identifying and fighting the pest. We need to act fast, Failure is not an option.”
Candace Buzzard, Deputy Mission Director at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAid) in Kenya and East Africa, said development agencies and scientists are “continuing to build resilience, increase agricultural productivity and regional coordination on agriculture.”
Defining ‘resilience’ as “the ability of communities, countries and systems to respond to shock,” the experts said building resilience includes:
- Combination of cultural, biological and bio pesticide control
- Developing host plant resistance (conventional and transgenic)
- Using low-cost chemicals, protective clothing, spraying equipment
- Using heat-, drought- and pest-resistant hybrid crops
- Using heat-, drought- and pest-resistant genetically modified crops where
- identification of predatory insects
- Using of bio pesticides for natural distribution by birds or other animals
- Using tools allowing farmer to pluck pest larvae out of plants, and
- Building a strong communications network about the pest.