Fall Armyworm Permanent $2billion maize deficit looming over Africa due to Fall Armyworm

The fall armyworm is now in 28 African countries, presenting itself as a “permanent agricultural challenge”.

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Africa is staring down the barrel of billions of dollars in maize losses due to the rapid destruction of the Fall Armyworm as it spreads across the continent.

A new report says it is now in 28 African countries, presenting itself as a “permanent agricultural challenge”.

In a report released on September 7, the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) said the Fall Armyworm (FAW) has gone from being in 17 countries in April 2017 to 28 as of September.

While studies have shown it feeds on more than 80 crops in its native land in the Americas, it prefers maize and can cut yields by up to 60 percent. Across Africa, maize is a staple crop, both for subsistence and commercial farmers.

CABI’s research, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), 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 it is not properly managed.

In a briefing at the African Green Revolution Forum, held in Abidjan from September 4-8, experts warned that overusing pesticides to combat the pest may leave it resistant to treatment - a widespread problem in the Americas.

They also warned that while bio pesticides are a lower risk control option, few of the bio pesticides 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.

Roger Day, CABI’s SPS Coordinator called for urgent research into the issue, as well as a “huge awareness and education effort” so farmers monitor their fields, and can make decisions on whether and how to control the invasion.

“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 was also concerned about the human health issues by extensive use of chemical pesticides, as farmers often did not have the resources to buy the needed safety gear for pesticide applications.

Day said that if farmers want to use pesticides, there needs to be specific measures to make lower risk bio pesticides more accessible.

Agricultural researchers are working to identify a natural biological control agent, such as a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs inside the FAW eggs, Day added - believing this may provide the most sustainable solution to Africa’s newest pest infestation.

In a CABI workshop in Ghana in May, attended by government, private and university experts and stakeholders, it was estimated that the FAW had affected up to 500,000 tonnes of maize and sorghum in Ghana, potentially costing Ghana up to $163 million this year.

For the September report, the CABI used a survey from Ghana and Zambia, as well as published data on national maize production from 10 countries used in its report to reach its estimated economic impact assessment.

It found that for ten African countries (Benin, Cameroon, DRC, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) combined, the potential impact of the pest on maize yield lies between 7.2 and 17.9m tonnes per year and with losses lying between $2,218m and $5,518m per year.

It also found that pesticide registration processes across Africa could be lengthy, and unlike in the Americas, there is no fully registered pesticide in Africa for FAW yet, but unregistered pesticide use is occurring.

The Fall Armyworm is a moth, native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas - but it is the caterpillar that causes damage with its huge appetite and quick reproduction. It also spreads quickly with the wind.


Stacey Knott is a freelance reporter, currently in Abidjan covering the African Green Revolution Forum.

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