Experts attending a technical meeting convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Nairobi to discuss the Fall armyworm infestation in Southern Africa in particular and the rest of Africa have called for robust monitoring of the pest in order to respond effectively. They include participants from Research Institutes, Academia, government officials, private sector, international partners such as DFID and USAID, farmer organizations, extension staff, entomologists, plant protection officers and other stakeholders.
The experts recommended that government and other stakeholders make an immediate assessment and put in place effective surveillance systems to map the affected areas as a matter of urgency. “We need to put in place effective surveillance systems and respond in time to confirmed outbreaks”, said Gabriel Rugalema FAO Country Representative in Kenya.
It emerged in the meeting that the Fall armyworm could have been in the region for a longer time than known due to failure by farmers to identify the pest, thus giving it time to multiply. “We cannot be certain about the first outbreak of the infestation because initially, some farmers could not distinguish the pest from other pests such as the maize stem borer and the African armyworm”, said Peter Chinwada from the University of Zimbabwe.
Apart from Lesotho and Island States, all Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Member countries have confirmed the outbreak of the Fall armyworm infestation. The first sessions of the two-day meeting focused on understanding the biology and characteristics of the pest. This information will inform the development of awareness raising materials in the region.
Caution of heavy application of pesticides
Discussions also focused on the danger of heavy application of chemicals to control the Fall armyworm as has been the first reactionary practice in some countries. “The pest is likely to develop resistance to the available pesticides if the application is not managed and guided”, warned Ramasamy Srinivasan, an Entomologist from the World Vegetable Centre in Taiwan.
Among the dangers of heavy use of chemicals cited by the experts is the high cost that may be a hindrance to many smallholder farmers, inadequate regulation of trade in, and application of pesticides and the eminent danger to humans, livestock and the environment, as well as accelerated building up of resistance.
The technical experts called for adoption of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that uses current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. Among the IPM approaches proposed were the use of natural predators, biological pesticides and judicious pesticide application.
The meeting espoused the importance of a coordinated approach to managing the infestation and communicating coherent and consistent messages to the affected population and those at a risk. Thirteen countries including Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe from Southern Africa are sharing information, experiences and lessons in managing the infestation in the meeting. Also, joining from East Africa are experts from Burundi, Kenya and Uganda, where the Fall armyworm was recently reported.
FAO called for strengthened partnerships in the response
“Tackling the Fall armyworm infestation must take an aggregate approach at the national, subregional and regional levels”, he said. The two-day meeting is seeking to harmonize the subregional approaches to fighting the armyworm infestation. It was structured around reviewing the status of the Fall armyworm in Southern Africa, the state of preparedness and opportunities.
The Fall armyworm was reported in many parts Africa in addition to Southern Africa and therefore it is of concern to all across the continent. FAO is now urgently making an assessment of the spread, level of infestation, and ultimately find integrated control methods with all stakeholders said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa.
The outcomes of the Southern Africa Technical Meeting will be an important input into at the “Stakeholders Consultation Meeting on Fall Armyworm in Africa; Status and Strategy for Effective Management” that FAO is jointly organizing with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) also in Nairobi Kenya from 27-28 April 2017.