Zambezi farmers face fall armyworm outbreak

RUNDU - The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has confirmed there is an outbreak of fall armyworms in the Zambezi Region after it was reported on February 14 to have attacked crops in various areas � and considering the poor rain prospects this will affect the harvest immensely. According to the ministry the outbreak poses a significant threat to smallholder farmers, mainly maize farmers. and has become a threat to food security.

In the 2016/2017 cropping season approximately 50 000 hectares of maize and millet were estimated to have been damaged by these worms that adversely affected 27 000 households. The fall armyworms were spotted in Sachona, Kongola, Ngoma, Bukalo, Kasheshe and Musanga. Following these reports the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry took assessment missions in the affected areas on 18 and 19 February which confirmed that over 100 hectares of farmland are adversely affected by the worms. Crops in these areas are at different growth stages, from vegetative to flowering stage which is highly susceptible to fall armyworms, Margaret Kalo, spokesperson for the agriculture ministry said.

Research shows that the fall armyworms prefer maize, but can also feed on more than 80 additional species of crops, including rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton.

Fall armyworms were initially detected in Central and Western Africa in early 2016 and they quickly spread across virtually all of Sub-Saharan Africa. In July 2018 it was also confirmed in India and Yemen. Because of trade and the moth's strong flying ability, it has the potential to spread further.

Farmers will need great support through integrated pest management to sustainably manage the pest in their cropping systems. The lifespan of the fall armyworm from egg to larva to moth lasts from one to three months, and it is during the larva stage that it creates the most crop damage. Research also shows the moth can fly up to 100 km per night and the female moth can lay up to a total of 1 000 eggs in her lifetime

This reporter has learned on the website of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations that FAO have developed a mobile phone app which can aid farmers to monitor fall armyworms in their crop fields here in Africa and farmers can research it and see how it can assist them.

There are a number of ways to try to manage this pest in maize and other crops, but because it is a new pest to Africa, none of them are guaranteed to be effective and research is going on to develop more effective solutions.

However, there are some cultural and manual practices that can help reduce their effectiveness like the use of intercropping, and crop rotation with non-grass species such as cassava can reduce crop damage.

Handpick and destroy egg masses and larvae, or collect and drop larvae in hot water. Killing one caterpillar prevents the appearance of more than 1500-2000 new caterpillars within less than four weeks, while using good quality seeds can increase plant vigour and potentially reduce damage, farmers are advised.

Source: New Era