Enabling quick and coordinated responses are essential in staying ahead of the fall armyworm, otherwise it could cost Africa dearly, said Dr Joseph DeVries, Vice President of Program Development and Innovation at the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Research done by the UK’s Department for International Development at the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), shows that, for the top ten major communities alone, the annual cost in harvest losses could be between US$2.2 billion and US$5.5 billion, if not managed properly.
The worm has now been reported in 28 African countries, arriving on the continent only one year ago and posing a severe threat to food security. The worm can destroy 60% of maize crops and has a menu of 80 crops it feeds on.
According to CABI, African countries seem to choose pesticides as weaponry to fight the worm. However, this heightens the risk of the development of pesticide resistance, a widespread problem in the Americas where the worm has its origins.
Bio-pesticides are less risky, but the few options from the Americas are yet to be approved for use in Africa. According to the organisation this calls for urgent local trials, registration and the development of local production.
“Maize can recover from some damage to leaves. So when farmers see damaged leaves, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to control (the pest). Research is urgently needed and a huge awareness and education effort is required so that farmers monitor their fields, and make decisions on whether and how to control,” said Dr Roger Day, CABI’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Coordinator.
“There are natural ways farmers can reduce impact, including squashing the eggs or caterpillars when they see them, and maintaining crop diversity on the farm, which encourages natural predators.”
Scientists on the continent are already investigating several biocontrol measures.