Africa faces $2bn maize deficit if fall army­worm is poorly man­aged

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Big Read -

THE Cen­tre for Agri­cul­ture and Bio­sciences In­ter­na­tional (CABI) has con­firmed that Fall Army­worm (FAW) has been re­ported in 28 African coun­tries, fol­low­ing the pest’s ar­rival in Africa in 2016, pre­sent­ing a now per­ma­nent agri­cul­tural chal­lenge for the con­ti­nent. FAW feeds on more than 80 crops, but prefers maize and can cut yields by up to 60 per­cent.

In re­search funded by the UK’s Depart­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (DFID), CABI now es­ti­mates the pest will cost just 10 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 the pest is not prop­erly man­aged.

“En­abling our agri­cul­tural com­mu­ni­ties with quick and co-or­di­nated re­sponses is now es­sen­tial to en­sure the con­ti­nent stays ahead of the plague,” said Dr Joseph DeVries, vi­cepres­i­dent Pro­gramme De­vel­op­ment and In­no­va­tion at AGRA.

As coun­tries turn to pes­ti­cides to re­duce the dam­age, farm­ers face the risk of the pest de­vel­op­ing re­sis­tance to treat­ment, which has be­come a widespread prob­lem in Amer­ica. Biopes­ti­cides are a lower risk con­trol op­tion, but few of the biopes­ti­cides used in Amer­ica are ap­proved for use in Africa, rais­ing the need for ur­gent lo­cal tri­als, reg­is­tra­tion and the de­vel­op­ment of lo­cal pro­duc­tion.

“Maize can re­cover from some dam­age to the leaves. So when farm­ers see dam­aged leaves, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean they need to con­trol. Re­search is ur­gently needed, and a huge aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion ef­fort is re­quired so that farm­ers mon­i­tor their fields, and can make de­ci­sions on whether and how to con­trol,” said Dr Roger Day, CABI’s San­i­tary and Phy­tosan­i­tary (SPS) Co-or­di­na­tor.

“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 has also warned of the need to ad­dress the hu­man health is­sues raised by any far more Cetshwayo Zind­abazezwe Mab­hena writes from Pre­to­ria in South Africa: de­colo­nial­ ex­ten­sive use of chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides.

“Re­source poor farm­ers are of­ten un­will­ing or un­able to buy the ap­pro­pri­ate safety equip­ment and in some cases they use pes­ti­cides with­out ap­pro­pri­ate ap­pli­ca­tion equip­ment. Farm­ers may also be dis­in­clined to use safety equip­ment when hot weather makes it ex­tremely un­com­fort­able. Recog­nis­ing that farm­ers will still want to use pes­ti­cides, spe­cific mea­sures are needed to make lower risk biopes­ti­cides more ac­ces­si­ble,” said Dr Day.

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

Pro­fes­sor Pa­trick Lu­mumba

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