Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Farming Reporter
A GOVERNMENT research institution, Plant Protection Research Institute has dispelled reports of fall army worm outbreaks insisting that it is only a surge in numbers of the pest due to lack of control mechanism.
The acting head of Plant Protection Research Institute, Mr Shingirayi Nyamutukwa, said since the initial fall army worm outbreak in Matabeleland North Province two years ago, the country was still to record any epidemic save for sporadic infestations in various areas.
“Let me be on point to say that when we had the first outbreak in September 2016 at Mary Ellen Farm in Matabeleland North, the pest has always been there. It’s just that the populations have been fluctuating — either you get high or low populations.
“We are not expecting another outbreak (soon) but just that those (population) fluctuations. If you don’t suppress it (fall army worm) and it finds a conducive environment for it to survive, then there is a high number or a surge in the population,” said Mr Nyamutukwa.
He said the institution had been conducting outreach programmes aimed at equipping farmers throughout the country with the requisite knowledge of eradication fall army worm since the outbreak.
“Having realised that the first challenge was knowledge gap, we have been going out to all the provinces to equip farmers with that knowledge, how to identify the pest and once they know the life stages of the pest then if we encourage them to scout they know what to look for in the fields. We have been training both farmers and specialists from (Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services) Agritex,” Mr Nyamutukwa said.
He said there was a need for farmers to have a collective effort in their bid to eradicate fall army worm.
“Farmers can be involved in the area management of the pest. We don’t want a few individuals controlling while others aren’t controlling because at the end of the day those who don’t control- the infestations will spill to those who would have controlled.
“If we encourage area wide control of the pest where everyone is on board and accessing the resources then we should be able to suppress the pest to a level that is not of economic injuries or losses and that’s what we are trying to aim at,” said Mr Nyamutukwa.
He said the institution has come up with a number of effective pesticides for the eradication of fall army worm from the 18 products it tested last year.
“We are quite happy to say that we have come up with a number of them that are effective in controlling the fall army worm and we have even come up with recommendations as per 16 litre knack snap sprayer because that is the equipment that the common farmer is using.
“We would like to translate this research message into farmer usable information. If we talk of 200 millilitres (ml) per hectare it becomes difficult to translate but if you indicate to a farmer that for this chemical you need 3 ml in a knack snap sprayer it becomes so easy to work with. First trials had promising results with certain chemicals that can actually work and manage the pest in the fields,” said Mr Nyamutukwa.
He said irrigation schemes were major breeding areas of fall army worm thus much was being done to curb the multiplication of the pest on irrigated farms.
“We are encouraging those who are in irrigation schemes to always scout their maize crops be it in winter season or summer season because these are areas we have seen the pest to perpetuate and then spread to other areas during rainy season.
“We have even setup surveillance systems where we have traps to check on population of the pest throughout the year. Where ever we see catches going up, we quickly intervene and place our efforts so that we make sure that the pest is always in check.”
Fall armyworm can be one of the more difficult insect pests to control in field corn. Late planted fields and later maturing hybrids are more likely to become infested. Fall armyworm causes serious leaf feeding damage as well as direct injury to the ear. While fall armyworms can damage corn plants in nearly all stages of development, it will concentrate on later plantings that have not yet silked. -@DNsingo