By Jimoh Babatunde
Major maize producing economies in Africa might be losing a total of $2.2bn to $5.5bn a year in maize harvests – if the Fall Armyworm (FAW), which has been reported in 28 African countries, is not properly managed.
In research carried out by Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), it was revealed that the pest, which arrived the continent in 2016, is now presenting a permanent agricultural challenge.
FAW feeds on more than 80 crops, but prefers maize and can cut yields by up to 60 per cent.
Speaking at a side event at the on going Africa Green Revolution Forum in Abidjan, Dr Roger Day, CABI’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Coordinator, said “As countries turn to pesticides to reduce the damage, farmers face the risk of the pest developing resistance to treatment, which has become a widespread problem in the Americas.
Biopesticides are a lower risk control option, but few of the biopesticides used in the Americas are yet approved for use in Africa, raising the need for urgent local trials, registration and the development of local production.
“Maize can recover from some damage to the leaves. So when farmers see damaged leaves, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to control. Research is urgently needed, and a huge awareness and education effort is required so that farmers monitor their fields, and can make decisions on whether and how to control.
“There are natural ways farmers can reduce impact, including squashing the eggs or caterpillars when they see them, and maintaining crop diversity in the farm, which encourages natural predators.”
CABI has also warned of the need to address the human health issues raised by any far more extensive use of chemical pesticides.
“Resource poor farmers are often unwilling or unable to buy the appropriate safety equipment and in some cases they use pesticides without appropriate application equipment.
Farmers may also be disinclined to use safety equipment when hot weather makes it extremely uncomfortable. Recognizing that farmers will still want to use pesticides, specific measures are needed to make lower risk biopesticides more accessible,” said Dr Day.
Agricultural researchers are also now working to identify a natural biological control agent, such as a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs inside the FAW eggs.
In time, this may provide the most sustainable solution to Africa’s newest pest infestation, said Dr Day.
Also speaking at the event, Dr Joseph DeVries, Vice President – Program Development and Innovation at Alliance For a Green Revolution in Africa(AGRA), said “Enabling our agricultural communities with quick and coordinated responses is now essential, to ensure the continent stays ahead of the plague.
Josefa Leonel Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commssion, said the commssion is relying on the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in preparing an action plan on how to attack the pest .
She said as a policy body that they will use their platform to disseminate whatever they gathered from the FAO in the fight against armyworm on the continent.
Sacko added that the commission is planing side meetings for Minsters of Agriculture, Science and Environment as well as Head of Governments on the need to have fund set aside for the fight of the pest .