From a distance, Wycliffe Ngoda’s two acres of shiny green maize crops look healthy and lush. But the tell-tale holes in the leaves and debris on the stems give away an increasingly dangerous secret hidden in more and more maize fields across Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. The rampant Fall Armyworm caterpillar is once again threatening harvests across the continent for a second year.
The pest, which arrived in Africa from the Americas in 2016, affected around 50,000 hectares of maize in Kenya alone last year, costing 25 per cent of the crop, according to government officials.
Insect pests cause almost half of the crop losses in Africa. If the continent is to feed its growing population, farmers must find ways to control them. Pests account for high losses in other developing regions too.
For smallholder farmers in particular, pest management needs to be affordable, safe and sustainable. It should avoid the drawbacks of synthetic pesticides as far as possible. Research is now showing that integrated approaches can achieve these goals.
From the 13th to the 15th of November 2017, USAID and CIMMYT held a Regional Training and Awareness Generation Workshop on Fall Armyworm Pest Management for Eastern Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Participants from 11 countries attended the workshop to discuss short, medium and long term strategies to control Fall Armyworm in Africa. Following its accidental introduction into West Africa, the pest has spread quickly to the whole continent. The current and predicted yield loss to maize from FAW over the 2017-2018 season in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to reach US$ 3 billion.
Last night, the Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE), which uses state-of-the-art technology to help inform farmers in sub-Saharan Africa of pest outbreaks, was launched in Zambia at the British High Commission in Lusaka. The service is being developed by a consortium led by CABI and is funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP).
Datasets obtained from a combination of the plant-pest lifecycle, earth observation and satellite positioning, are being used to spearhead the fight against pests that devastate an estimated 40% of the world’s crops. The project will help farmers fight back against potentially disastrous pests such as the Fall Armyworm.
Last week, CABI confirmed that since it arrived in Africa in 2016, the Fall Armyworm (FAW) has been reported in 28 African countries, presenting a now permanent agricultural challenge for the continent. FAW mainly affects maize and can cut yields by up to 60%. In research funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), CABI estimate that, if not properly managed, the pest will cost 10 of Africa’s major maize producing economies a total of $2.2bn to $5.5bn a year in lost maize harvests.
In 2016 the fall armyworm, a major pest in the Americas, was found in Africa for the first time. Since then it has rapidly spread across much of sub-Saharan Africa. The caterpillar feeds on more than 80 different plants, but maize is its preferred host, the most widely grown crop in Africa and a staple for half the continent. In the context of Africa’s climate, the insect is now likely to build permanent and significant populations in West, Central and Southern Africa, and spread to other regions when temperatures are favourable, posing a major threat to food security.
CABI and AGRA are hosting a side event on fall armyworm at the African Green Revolution Forum 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. If you are not attending the conference, you can watch the livesteam below on September 7 at 14:00 (UTC). The video will also be available after the event.
[Update 14:20]: Due to poor internet connectivity, we are unable to run the livestream. A video will be made available on this page after the event.