Stories tagged: fall armyworm

Agroecology According to Generation Y

As the incoming custodians of the land, young farmers tell Farming First about the importance of practising agroecology to benefit today’s generation and those to come.

With agricultural needs and challenges varying greatly around the world, farming has always needed to be adaptive and agile.

And with a changing climate bringing extreme weather and conditions, it’s more important than ever to work with nature and farm in a way that fulfils each ecosystem’s potential to feed an ever growing population.

Young farmers especially are realising the benefits of incorporating ecological processes into their agricultural systems.

“From my personal experience, we know that if we look after our farm, our livestock, the environment, we will produce better crops,” Richard Bower, a cereals farmer from Staffordshire, UK, told Farming First. “The environment is a very big part of what we do on the farm, and we are only looking after the farm for a short period of time for the next generation as well.”

One way Richard is practicing agroecology on his farm is to consider wildlife.

“Crop rotation is very important and allows birds to nest,” he added. “Something else we do on our farm is welcome bird ringers, who are very passionate about the environment and they come and count the birds on the farm. They are also using technology so they will go in the night and count the number of birds on the farm.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, where the effects of global warming hit hardest, producing more extreme temperatures, one result has been the increase of crop-eating pests such as Fall Armyworm.

Innocent Jumbe, 28, who works for a seed company in Malawi, said an agroecological approach  can involve the responsible use of crop protection products.

“With climate change, all these pests coming in has been a real problem in Africa in the last year and we have been told by the government that we need to brace for impact,” Innocent said. “It’s not just about how we use chemicals but also about how we dispose of the chemicals.

“The blanket picture is that climate change is the biggest change, but we can see that people are not changing their lifestyles. We need to try to change the way that people look at things.”

Meanwhile, in Argentina, agroecology is a way to successfully support people, livestock and the environment in one ecosystem.

“Agroecology is about knowing how to work in the farm,” said Augustina Diaz Valdez, 22, a sheep farmer who is also training to be a vet. “This means knowing up to what limit you can produce and take advantage, always thinking about the environment and being sustainable.”

Dennis Kabiito, 34, a livestock and crop farmer in Uganda, agreed: “As farmers, we are stewards of the land and of the environment. It’s [about] using the right practices and the right methods at the given time.

“For example with Fall Armyworm and African swine flu – this cannot easily be controlled by organic practices but they can contribute. You need some help from chemicals.”

In South Africa, agroecology is about balancing productivity with sustainability.

“It’s about finding the right balances in terms of practices. For me, it’s about the foundation for establishing these practices,” said Brenda Tlhabane, a 37 year old farmer from South Africa.

“At the end [of the day], we are the consumers of nature so we need to do it in a sustainable manner and make sure that we leave a legacy.

“As a young person, I need to be profitable and make sure that I am preserving the environment and planet as a whole. I would want our policy makers to look at the overall approach and think how do we become sustainable in terms of soil health and making sure that we preserve good quality soils as well?”

AI App Helps Farmers Detect Fall Armyworm in India

By Tamar Valdman, on behalf of Saillog

Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is not your typical caterpillar-moth species. Fall armyworm is an invasive pest that affects over 80 plants, such as maize (corn), and can cause more than $13 billion in agricultural losses. In the United States, the pest was first reported as early as 1797. Around the 1970s, the U.S. reported losses between $32-$138 million annually. Farmers in Western countries can afford to use the latest high quality pesticides, while those in low income nations have limited access to pesticides that are up to the job. Thus, the 2016 fall armyworm outbreak in Africa, which began in West and Central Africa, has since been deemed a humanitarian crisis. Currently, agriculture experts estimate fall armyworm may cause yield losses between $2.4-$6.2 billion per year in Africa. Maize is a major staple crop and over 200 million people depend on it for food security. Therefore, regional and international organizations and governments are collaborating on effective pest management approaches.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Feed the Future, Land O’Lakes International Development, and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Researched teamed up to create a Fall Armyworm Tech Prize. The competition offers twenty selected startups that focus on digital solutions for identifying, treating, and tracking fall armyworm in Africa a chance to win one of five prizes. Saillog, a Farming First supporter that is dedicated to sustainable agriculture, was one of twenty startups chosen to participate in the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize.

Saillog leverages computer vision and artificial intelligence algorithms for plant protection management, offering a smartphone app called Agrio that uses image recognition algorithms to diagnose hundreds of crop diseases, pests, and nutritional deficiencies. Agrio supports 11 languages, has over 50,000 downloads worldwide, and is rated in the top 100 best educational apps in seven countries. Nvidia, a global leader in artificial intelligence, stated Saillog’s algorithms have, “superb accuracy” and Forbes recently called Saillog’s team, “Food Waste Fighters”.

Saillog’s algorithms are being trained to specialize in identifying fall armyworm. It was a right place, right time type of situation when farmers in India uploaded images of fall armyworm to Agrio and the algorithms identified the pest. Through mid-July, Saillog’s artificially intelligent global alert system, called AgrioShield, sent warning notifications to the smartphones of farmers in high risk zones; hundreds of farmers received suggested preventative protocols written by Saillog’s agriculture specialists. On Monday, July 30, 2018, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research-National Bureau of Agriculture Insect Resources announced Dr. A.N. Shylesha and his team recorded fall armyworm on maize in the Chikkaballapur district in Karnataka state, India. Due to fall armyworms’ high mobility, international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suspected the pest would spread to Asia, though until last month there were no confirmed cases.

“We are witnessing an intersection of advances in technology and the potential for efficacious containment of outbreaks. We experienced a similar situation in India when we were at the forefront of tracking the spread of chilli leaf curl virus”, said Dr. Nessi Benishti, the CEO and Founder of Saillog.

“There are no treatments for crop viruses. Prevention and early detection are critical factors in containing the spread. Image-based artificial intelligent systems like Agrio are important tools in agriculture. We are seeing an increase in the spread of diseases and pests globally, such as with the fall armyworm. We are at a point in time when information is easily accessible and communication between individuals is heightened. We once had a case where an individual growing crops in his living room in Fiji uploaded images of diseased potatoes, and a Professor in the United States who happened to specialize in potatoes helped him cure the disease. It is these occurrences, and ones like detecting foreign species early, that depict the impact of our technology”, said Dr. Benishti.

 

Farmers Need Long-Term and Short-Term Solutions to Combat Fall Armyworm in Kenya

Fall Armyworm has arrived in Kenya to stay, but while the government develops a long-term strategy, farmers need ready and accessible solutions now.

From a distance, Wycliffe Ngoda’s two acres of shiny green maize crops look healthy and lush. But the tell-tale holes in the leaves and debris on the stems give away an increasingly dangerous secret hidden in more and more maize fields across Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. The rampant Fall Armyworm caterpillar is once again threatening harvests across the continent for a second year.

The pest, which arrived in Africa from the Americas in 2016, affected around 50,000 hectares of maize in Kenya alone last year, costing 25 per cent of the crop, according to government officials.

This year, the losses could be as high as 50 per cent, threatening Kenya’s food security and farmers’ economic security in a country where the average annual consumption of maize surpasses 100kg per person. Continue reading

Agroecology in Action: with Professor Pedro Sanchez

Where in the world are agroecological approaches building soil health, beating pests and helping farmers stay productive while protecting the planet? Pedro Sanchez, Research Professor of Tropical Soils at the University of Florida Soil & Water Sciences Department continues our “Agroecology in Action” series with this guest post.

Simply put, agroecology is a form of agriculture that takes maximum advantage of ecological processes.

In some situations, nature is able to function as a closed system; take a tropical forest for example. When nutrients are finely balanced in the system, they are recycled, meaning there is no need for extra nutrient inputs to be added.

Agriculture however, requires a regular harvesting of crops. This results in large amounts of essential nutrients being removed from the soil. Agroecological approaches must return these vital components to the soil, to ensure the soil stays healthy and can continue to grow the crops we require. This can be achieved through efficient fertilization— mineral, organic, or for the best results, both. Continue reading

Agroecology in Action: Keeping Pests at Bay in the Safest Way

Fall armyworm. Coffee borer. Tomato leaf miner. These pests threaten harvests and livelihoods daily. Claire Starkey, President of Fintrac tells Farming First how her team works with farmers to create maximum pest resistance with minimal environmental impact using Integrated Pest Management, the latest agroecological approach to be explored in our “Agroecology in Action” series produced ahead of the Second International Symposium on Agroecology held by the FAO in Rome from 3-5th April 2018.

Agroecology is all about helping farmers to be good environmental stewards. At Fintrac, this is a core tenet of our work. Why? Because it is the ultimate triple win: for farmers, for consumers of the goods they produce and for the planet.

We know we need to protect the earth for future generations. But farmers also need to act sustainably to protect their shorter-term profitability: if they do not look after the natural resources they rely on, they will not get the yields they need to earn a living and feed their families.

Let’s say a family buys a cow. At first, the animal is producing plenty of milk. But over time, if the cow is not nourished properly, she produces less. The same analogy applies to crop production. When you first plant a seed, it may yield good results. But if you continue to reuse that same seed, it loses its effectiveness while also stripping the soil of essential nutrients, significantly reducing yields. That is why we focus so much attention on the transfer of good agricultural practices that protect vital water resources and build up soil health.

In other words, farmers optimize agricultural outcomes – and incomes – by following agroecological approaches that keep ecosystems healthy. And in the last three years alone, Fintrac has supported local partners in putting 630,000 hectares of land into sustainable production across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Another season, another pest

One of the biggest challenges facing the farmers we work with all over the world is the invasion of harmful pests. Notorious bugs like the fall armyworm right now in Africa, or the coffee borer in Latin America, show up season after season and threaten the food supply and livelihoods of vulnerable communities.

To combat this, Fintrac prioritizes and facilitates training in integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. IPM practices allow farmers to achieve maximum disease and pest control with minimal environmental impact.

It starts with prevention. Proper weeding and land preparation, along with planting natural live barriers, can go a long way to preventing pests from taking hold. Using pest- and disease-resistant seeds also sets farmers at an advantage. Once crops are planted, adequate crop nutrition and good water management practices help plants stay healthy. Regular health checks help detect any pest or disease infestation early.

But what happens, when despite our best efforts, pests do take hold? The first port of call is proper identification of the problem. We work with a network of field technicians that visit farmers to diagnose the issue and offer advice on how to take action when crops are affected.

Where possible, the next step is biological control, which can range from simple sticky traps to sophisticated microbial inoculants, which are referred to as “beneficial bacteria” that are developed from a crop’s natural enemies, such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. In Kenya, we worked with a local biologics company to train hundreds of vegetable farmers on the use of tuta traps to control a tomato leaf miner outbreak. These traps use a substance known as a pheromone to lure pests onto a sticky trap; a low-cost and safe method that helped farmers salvage what could have otherwise been a lost season.

A sticky pheromone trap attracts and captures the pest. (World Vegetable Center)

Through a partnership with a Malawian company, we are promoting the use of microbial inoculants to promote plant health and boost resistance to disease or infestation. Our partner has so far distributed these Nitrofix inoculants to thousands of farmers across Malawi.

Unfortunately, in some cases, this is not sufficient. We then might need to use agrochemicals, which requires expanding the knowledge and capacity of both farmers and governments to handle them. We have helped public sector agencies to refine pesticide control measures for example, which not only protect human health and the environment, but ensure crops destined for the international market comply with standards such as minimum crop residue requirements.

For farmers, training in safe use is essential, including guidelines for chemical selection, application, storage and disposal. In Honduras, farmers were trained on how to triple wash and perforate pesticide containers, which were then collected by safe disposal service teams. One of those farmer clients, Emiliano Dominiquez, who had been in danger of having his food and income source wiped out by aphids, instead saw crop yields increase six-fold as a result of integrating IPM into his on-farm practices.

When the environment is healthy and productive, farmers can grow abundant food for their families and the global market. It is therefore essential we work to beat challenges such as pests and diseases with the most sustainable and sensible approaches we can to protect our planet. After all, it is the only one we have.

Further reading:

How Fall Armyworm Can Be Beaten in Africa

B.M. Prasanna, Director of the Global Maize Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), believes that the fall armyworm on the move in sub-Saharan Africa can be beaten. In this guest blog for Farming First, he outlines the actions that must be urgently taken to protect African harvests from the plight of this pest.

Fall armyworm is one of the most destructive insect pests worldwide, and it is on the move. In 2015, this pest migrated for the first time to Nigeria. As of today, its devastation has been reported in 30 countries in Africa.

Estimates in September 2017 showed that just in six African countries, the pest has devastated almost 1.5 million hectares of maize crops. Without proper management, over the next one to two years, fall armyworm is expected to cause up to six billion dollars worth of damage across affected maize growing regions in sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is it such a majorly concerning pest? The first, most important reason is that fall armyworm is very highly poliphagus – which means the pest can attack not just one or two crops, but as many as 80 different plant species. Second, it can migrate very fast. Each moth population can travel up to 1,500 km.

Fall armyworm attacking crops in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: CIMMYT/M. Shindler

Fall armyworm attacking crops in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: CIMMYT/M. Shindler

In case of America, where fall armyworm has been present but under control, it usually migrates to warmer weather in the winter. But in Africa, the weather conditions are quite conducive for the pest to remain in certain countries for a long time. This means fall armyworm is here to stay in sub-Saharan Africa. So we need to know how to adopt from various practices that have been followed elsewhere, tailor them to African agro-ecologies and sustainably manage the pest.

Raising farmer awareness on effective pesticide use and cultural control

The first, most important action that must be taken, is to raise awareness among farming communities on how to make wise decisions on application of pesticides. It is critical to apply the right kind of pesticide, at the right stage. This is when the larvae is within the first three of its six stages of development – in the final three stages larvae have become very big, and can protect themselves from coming into contact with the pesticide.

We must also create awareness amongst extension agents and the farming communities on what exactly this pest is, how not to panic, how to recognize the early stages during the early crop growth, and apply the right types of pesticides.

There are also certain cultural control efforts which need to be validated and quickly disseminated. For example – each larvae lays as many as 1000 to 1500 eggs each month, and these are laid in batches of around 200-300 eggs. These could be very easily recognized even with the naked eye on the leaves. If a farmer is trained to understand how to recognize those egg masses, then destroying them means you are destroying 300 potential larvae. So understanding what these egg masses look like, and quickly collecting and destroying them will be key.

Stepping up research on control measures and host plant resistance

The second most important aspect is to urgently carry out strategic research on control measures, such as biological control options. For example, there are many pesticides derived from naturally occuring bacterias and viruses that could be helpful, such as Basilothrongulences  pesticides, Neem based bio pesticides, as well as egg and larvae paracetoids that are known to be very effective against fall armyworm outside Africa. So the capacity to quickly validate these options, to scale them up and release them is an extremely important action.

In a more long-term approach, institutions like CIMMYT are also intensively working on host plant resistance. Making use of historic research, we are now extensively testing maize and wheat varieties against the fall armyworm populations in Africa and we have got some very promising sources of resistance which we will be validating very soon.

But this will not be immediately available, the seeds for resistant varieties need to be identified, validated, and then systematically seed needs to be scaled up and deployed. But we must remember, this pest is unfortunately here to stay for decades. So we are running a marathon here, not a 100 meter sprint. We must conserve our energy to ensure we reach the finish line, employing both short and long-term solutions.

Fall armyworm found on crops in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: CIMMYT/M. Shindler

Fall armyworm found on crops in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: CIMMYT/M. Shindler

A manual for action

CIMMYT, in partnership with USAID and a number of research and development partners, national and international partners is working to produce a comprehensive manual on fall armyworm pest management in Africa. It will focus on six topics: how to apply integrated pest management to fall armyworm management; fall armyworm monitoring and surveillance; cultural control and sustainable agro-ecological approaches for fall armyworm management; biological control options; host plant resistance and sustainable pesticide use. The manual will be available in January.

There is a tremendous coordination effort at the local, regional and continental level that is required in the years to come in order to make these things happen.

This pest is not to be treated as some localized problem, because of its rapidly migrating capacity. So monitoring and surveillance methods across the continent need to be intensified, we need to take advantage of digital tools or applications for the farmers to actively send messages about the pest in different parts of the countries or provinces, and how best to communicate with them about control measures. We must also urgently plug research gaps that examine the efficacy of certain interventions, and also ensure the best pesticides are registered and available for use across all countries.

All these things mean there has to be a very strong investment in research and development and in active outreach program and coordinated networking. I estimate that it could cost in the next four to five years no less than 200-300 million dollars per year.

CIMMYT is ready to stand with others; IITA, ICIPE, CABI, national programs, and the private sector, to beat this pest – with a unified and systematic approach, it can be done.