The Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO says fall armyworm poses a great challenge to the survival of agriculture in Africa, with the potential to put hundreds of millions at risk of hunger.
Principal technical coordinator for Fall Armyworm (FAW) for the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Allan Hruska expresses fears that the crop munching worm will take over all the crops in Africa if not controlled.
“There are roughly 35 million hectares of maize planted per year in Africa and if the worm is not in all those maize fields now, it will be very soon” he says
In December, Malawi declared 20 out of 28 districts disaster areas after an outbreak of fall armyworm. Selina Mangwe, a 40-year-old farmer from Malawi narrates her experience with the species:
“It’s the first time to see this massive attack on maize crop in the field. The pest is damaging both rain fed and irrigated maize.”
In Zimbabwe, fall armyworm destroyed 20 percent of the country’s maize crop last season; at a time when the country was recovering from devastating drought.
The invasive species, native to tropical and subtropical regions of Americas was first detected in Central and Western Africa in early 2016. They cause extensive damage to farms through widespread stripping of leaf blades. Fall armyworm activities are recognizable through its muddy feeding waste and white laces on the crop leaves. Agronomist Evan William Craig sums it up saying:
“When they attack crops, the leaves are reduced to a lace, and this can lead to deterioration in yields as the leaf surface area of the crop is reduced.”
The crop-munching worm can fly up to 100km (60 miles) at night. The female moth can lay up to 1,000 eggs in her lifetime. Larvae form of the fall armyworm prefers maize, but can feed on more than 80 plant species including rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton.
Farmers hope that a solution to eliminate the pest will be found. Even at that, they try their best to improve the situation.
In Chikwawa, Malawi, farmers use remedies like Neem leaves and surf washing powder to minimize the impact of the attack on maize crop. Neem leave is said to restrict the appetite and growth of the pest.
“From our experience, this method is slightly making a difference. But sometimes we combine it with Cypermethrin, a pesticide. We also use surf washing powder by dissolving it in water and spray the solution to the affected crop. The dissolved powder irritates the worms and drives them away”
Sadly, farmers are discovering to their dismay that these control measures have failed to tame the pests. The pests seem to be getting to a growth stage when they can no longer be controlled.