Africa faces $2bn maize deficit if fall armyworm is poorly managed

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Sep 17, 2017 | 1070 views

FALL Army worm map

The Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) has confirmed that Fall Armyworm (FAW) has been reported in 28 African countries, following the pest’s arrival in Africa in 2016, presenting a now permanent agricultural challenge for the continent. FAW feeds on more than 80 crops, but prefers maize and can cut yields by up to 60 percent.

In research funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), CABI now estimates the pest will cost just 10 of the continent’s major maize producing economies in Africa a total of $2,2bn to $5,5bn a year in lost maize harvests — if the pest is not properly managed.

“Enabling our agricultural communities with quick and co-ordinated responses is now essential to ensure the continent stays ahead of the plague,” said Dr Joseph DeVries, vice-president — Programme Development and Innovation at AGRA.

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 America. Biopesticides are a lower risk control option, but few of the biopesticides used in America are 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,” said Dr Roger Day, CABI’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Co-ordinator.

“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.

Recognising 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.

About CABI

CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International) is an international not-for-profit organisation that improves people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment.

Our 48 member countries guide and influence our core areas of work, which include International Development and Publishing. Through knowledge sharing and science, CABI helps address issues of global concern such as improving global food security and safeguarding the environment.

We do this by helping farmers grow more and lose less of what they produce, combating threats to agriculture and the environment from pests and diseases, protecting biodiversity from invasive species, and improving access to agricultural and environmental scientific knowledge. — www.cabi.org

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