Insect invasion adds to pressure on Africa’s food crisis

In addition to the climate change-related drought that has left millions of Africans on the brink of starvation, the Fall Armyworm invasion further threatens the continent’s food security, incomes and livelihoods.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the pest, first reported in Africa in 2016, is believed to cause up to $9.4 billion in annual yield losses in Africa. The Fall Armyworm feeds on the leaves, stems and reproductive organs of maize and 80 other plant species in cereals and vegetables.

In Kenya, farmers in the west of the country have been alerted to the invasion of destructive pests as the planting season continues. “There is a sporadic invasion of FAW in maize fields and we are taking early precautions to educate farmers on the need to report promptly to our extension officers,” said Reuben Seroney, director of the agriculture in Uasin Gishu County, to the Kenyan News Agency last week. .

“We have also received assorted chemicals from the Ministry of Agriculture as a mitigation measure to prevent further attacks.”

Seroney said the worms affected nearly 5,000 hectares of crops, mostly corn.

In Trans-Nzoia County, County Agricultural Officer Mary Nzomo told farmers to get pesticides from sub-county offices.

Fall army worms have also been reported in more than 47 districts in Uganda, where they have seriously damaged crops. The pests have also invaded neighboring Tanzania.

In a statement on Friday, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said only six African countries reported the pest in 2016. But it has spread to 78 countries in Africa, the Near East, Asia and the Pacific to date.

“The fall armyworm knows no boundaries and continues its rapid march across the world,” Qu said.

The FAO said the spread of the Fall Armyworm is leading to heavy use of pesticides, putting human and environmental health at risk.

As part of the response measures, FAO said that FAW tolerant maize hybrids are now available from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center for testing and dissemination in African countries.

FAO has also tested integrated pest management tactics in eight geographical areas with good results.

The measures are already bearing fruit, with yield losses caused by the Fall Armyworm having been reduced to 5% and less in Burkina Faso since 2020.

In addition, biopesticides and biological control have shown up to 90% effectiveness in the field against the pest.

However, the FAO has warned that the pest continues to spread, exposing new farmers and their livelihoods.

Despite the achievements, the FAO warned that the adoption of integrated pest management and the reduction of yield losses are uneven across countries, and that the use of dangerous pesticides persists.