The government through the ministry of agriculture has announced plans to spend Sh600m to fight Fall Armyworms this season.
The money will be disbursed through the newly formed Fall Armyworm Multi-Institutional Technical Team comprising of local researchers, government scientists and international organisations such as the International Livestock Research Institute.
This comes at a time when maize production due to FAW invasion dropped from 37.2m bags in 2016 to 35.4m bags in 2017 according to the 2018 economic survey released in April by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
In this, maize worth over three billion shillings was lost representing 20 per cent of the total harvest. In 2017, the government spent Sh300m to buy pesticides to control the spread of the worm.
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FAW feeds on more than 80 crops, but prefers maize and can cut yields by up to 60 per cent.
More than 800,000 acres of maize have been infested by the worm since it was first reported in Western Kenya region of Busia in March 2017.
In 2017, Uasin Gishu County for instance, hitherto considered Kenya’s bread basket, maize production dropped from 4.4m bags realized in 2016 to 3.7m bags, a 25 per cent drop.
Similarly, wheat yields plummeted to 430,000 bags from 466,000 bags in 2016.
Trans Nzoia County, a high maize production region on the other hand, harvested 4.7m bags of maize down from five million bags in 2016 due to Fall Armyworm infestation and maize smut disease.
In research funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) now estimates the pest will cost just ten 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 coordinated responses is now essential, to ensure the continent stays ahead of the plague,” said Dr Joseph DeVries, Vice President – Program 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 the Americas.
Biopesticides are a lower risk control option, but few of the biopesticides used in the Americas are yet 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 Roger Day, CABI’s 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.