The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has launched a new and comprehensive guide on integrated pest management to tackle the Fall Armyworm on maize in Africa.
While launching the guide, FAO observed that the invasive pest was affecting millions of hectares of maize across most of Africa, mainly crops in the hands of smallholder farmers.
The organisation said that by early 2018, only 10 out of the 54 African states and territories – mostly in the north of the continent – had not reported infestations by the invasive pest, adding that Central and Southern Africa were particularly on high alert, as the main maize growing season was currently underway in these regions.
The guide provided support for a correct identification of this new foe for African farmers and offers options to manage it in an integrated, ecological and sustainable way.
It was developed with support from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), and Lancaster University, United Kingdom .
Others were Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (EMBRAPA), Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
It would help smallholder farmers and frontline agricultural staff to manage FAW more effectively amidst fears that FAW may push more people into hunger.
“We know that farmer education and community action are critical in best managing FAW, and curbing its spread as much as possible. The guide builds on the experiences of farmers and researchers from the Americas who have been dealing with the pest for centuries as well as on new technology and lessons learnt so far in Africa.
“It gives African farmers and frontline agricultural workers the practical advice they need to tackle FAW head-on,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General.
FAO called on those African countries likely to be affected soon, given the current distribution of FAW in Africa, to get prepared.
This is by: re-enforcing early warning systems at community level, raising awareness among farmers, and using available materials, such as the guide.
“As FAW is new to Africa, farmers’ and crop protection and extension workers’ good understanding of the pest’s behaviour and management practices are crucial.
“This is in effectively managing it without damaging human health and the environment,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa.
Key guidelines and advice on effectively and sustainably managing FAW include farmers taking direct action by crushing egg masses and young larvae.
FAO said studies have shown that FAW suffers up to 56 per cent mortality from parasitoids (beneficial insects such as tiny wasps killing eggs or larvae of the FAW) alone.
“Farmers must be able to recognise the FAW natural enemies and learn how to conserve and enhance them. Ants have already shown to be important FAW predators.
“Fields in Nigeria have already shown high levels of natural FAW mortality due to fungal and viral entomopathogens (pathogenic organisms killing FAW larvae). Farmers can ‘recycle’ these naturally-occurring pathogens.
“Farmers can try ‘local remedies’, including application of ash, lime, sand, or soil directly into infested whorls, already successfully used by some African farmers against FAW.”
The guide warned that insecticide applications were costly and might not work because of resistance, poor application techniques, or low-quality pesticides, and would negatively affect FAW’s natural enemies.
The UN agency also warned that alternative and sustainable solutions must be found as FAW was in Africa to stay and would be infesting maize fields for many years.
FAO said it had been already rolling out Training of Trainers on how to manage FAW for frontline crop protection and extension in countries most affected by FAW.
“With this guide, FAO will begin a continent-wide program of training master trainers to initiate an All-Africa Programme of Farmer Field Schools for the sustainable management of FAW. Over the next five years, FAO and partners aim to reach 10 million farmers through 40,000 Farmer Field Schools across Africa,” said Allan Hruska, FAO Principal Technical Coordinator on Fall Armyworm.