Stories tagged: how to tackle fall armyworm

How Africa is Fighting Fall Armyworm

MaryLucy Oronje, Knowledge Bank Coordinator, at CABI East Africa writes about the efforts underway to tackle fall armyworm, which has devastated crops in 44 African countries.

Since fall armyworm was confirmed in Nigeria in early 2016, it has conquered at least 22 million square kilometres, expanding into 44 African countries by July 2018. In Africa alone, fall armyworm has the potential to cause maize yield losses of 8.3 to 20.6 million metric tons per year. Earlier this year, the pest was also confirmed in India, where it is likely to spread throughout Asia.

Since the start of the year, there have also been at least 14 interceptions of commodities such as babycorn, cut flowers, coriander, and capsicum in the European Union infested with fall armyworm, suggesting that it may begin to affect trade. With its continued move across the globe, studies have been carried out to try and map out where fall armyworm could arrive next.

Fall armyworm infested maize, Zambia (Credit: CABI)

In Africa, there has been a huge, concerted effort in the fight against fall armyworm in many ways from a number of organisations. Initially governments distributed free pesticides. However, this was largely viewed as an emergency measure and likely not sustainable. The combined cost of pesticides across Africa could run into the millions of dollars.

The work on fall armyworm in Africa has been extensive and far reaching, across a number of areas.

On the ground – supporting extension work

Working with extension agents is key to ensuring farmers are getting the best advice for their crops. This knowledge can be disseminated in a number of ways such as CABI’s Plantwise clinics where extension officers working as ‘plant doctors’ use tools like Pest Decision Management Decision Guides to give best practice advice. Not only do the tools need to be kept up to date, extensionists themselves must be well-trained on new methods and outbreaks.

Extension agents work in the field to ensure farmers get personalised advise about their crops (Credit: CABI)

Furthermore, it’s vital that all members of the farming community are included. CABI, in collaboration with Pest Control Products Board and Agrochemicals Association of Kenya have participated in training agro-dealers in the safe use of pesticides and Integrated Pest Management so that they stock the right pesticides and also help farmers make the right choices.

In the lab – continued research

Continued scientific research is important for finding newer and better solutions to fight fall armyworm. A number of biocontrol methods are being studied and tested, including the exotic egg parasitoid, Telenomus remus, which is widely used in the Americas to control fall armyworm is being tested in South Africa as a naturally occurring way to combat fall armyworm. In addition, CABI’s experts in the biological control of agricultural pests and diseases have conducted the first major study of potential biological controls for fall armyworm control in Africa.

Organisations including CIMMYT, IITA, ICIPE, AATF, and CABI are also looking into a range of areas such as host plant resistance, mating disruption and insect-resistant (Bt) maize.

On the go – investing in tech

Making use of technology in development is a growing and important field. By providing digital tools, data and information can be supplied and collected much faster. An example of a data collection tool is the FAMEWS App from FAO.

The app is used by all members of the farming community – from plant protection officers to the smallholder farmers – to collect data on pheromone trap catches during scouting. These traps help lure the fall armyworm and bring it under observation. The data is then used to better understand the lifecycle of the fall armyworm and the extent of the infestation; mapping out fall armyworm risk.

Another digital tool is CABI’s Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE) which uses satellite technology for fall armyworm management. Farmers receive timely warnings about the risk of fall armyworm outbreaks and are advised on appropriate measures to protect their crops.

Farmers receive timely warnings about the risk of fall armyworm outbreaks and are advised on appropriate measures to protect their crops from CABI’s early warning satellite system (Credit: CABI)

In the field – working with farmers

Empowering farmers by giving them the skills and knowledge they need to combat pests and diseases is fundamental. Ensuring they know how to monitor their crops to detect fall armyworm eggs and larvae can inform immediate management decisions.

Without action, there would undoubtedly be a huge impact. Fall armyworm has the ability to lay up to 1,000 eggs and migrate long distances on prevailing winds. It breeds continuously throughout the year wherever there are host plants available.  This means that fall armyworm infestations can still occur off-season as long as climatic conditions are favourable. In light of this, it appears that this crop pest will become a resident in the crop fields of Africa, all year round.

Data from these communities is useful for identifying fall armyworm hot spots and free zones as well as discovering which management techniques are working. Indigenous knowledge can also be gathered from these communities, which can be verified and scaled up.

CABI’s Fall Armyworm Portal pulls together resources from a number of sources, making it a one-stop shop for the latest material on managing fall armyworm.

Extension workers help farmers (Credit: CABI)

How did fall armyworm spread so rapidly across Africa?

There are three reasons:

  1. Lack of an early warning and detection system (including pest risk analysis and quarantine surveillance)
  2. Lack of emergency response systems
  3. Weak capacity and systems to control plant disease in some countries

There is a lack of coherent strategy across a number of African countries for dealing with invasive species such as fall armyworm, that would enable the shift away from reactive responses. For instance, farmers could get rapid access to cheap and lower-risk solutions if governments had a conducive policy for subsidies. The cost benefits of prevention will be so much more than the costs of control.

Fall armyworm, like most other invasive species problems, is multi-dimensional. No institution or country can properly manage it alone. International cooperation is needed in cross-cutting research, partnerships and outreach, and fundraising for sustained campaigns and action. Moving forward, there needs to be strong enabling policy and commitment from all stakeholders to be able to deal with fall armyworm, and other invasive species that may threaten Africa.

Featured photo credit: CABI

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.