An invasion of fall armyworms is threatening the security, incomes and livelihoods of African farmers.
The pest insects attack the leaves, stems and reproductive parts of maize in particular, though up to 80 other plants are vulnerable to destruction.
The fall armyworms, first reported in Africa in 2016, are estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation to cause up to $9.4 billion to annual yields on the continent.
Kenyan government official Reuben Seroney said farmers in the west of his country had been alerted to the pending danger to crops as they continue with the planting season.
“There is a sporadic invasion of fall armyworms in maize fields and we are taking early precautions in sensitising farmers on the need to report promptly to our extension officers,” he said.
“We have also received some assorted chemicals from the Ministry of Agriculture as a mitigation measure to prevent further attack.”
Mr Seroney said the insects have affected nearly 5,000 hectares of crops, most of it maize.
Uganda has been battling to limit the damage of the fall armyworms, which are reported to have invaded more than 47 of the country’s districts as well as having moved into neighbouring Tanzania.
Qu Dongyu, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said only six African countries had reported the pest in 2016.
Since then it has spread to 78 countries in Africa, the Near East, Asia and the Pacific, he said.
“Fall armyworm knows no boundaries and is continuing its rapid march across the globe,” he warned.
The FAO said the spread of the fall army-worms was driving up the use of pesticides, putting human and environmental health at risk. It is conducting field experiments with maize hybrids tolerant to the pest and is making these available to African farmers.
Early results of the integrated pest management tactics have been promising, with losses attributed to the fall armyworm in Burkina Faso reduced to five per cent or less in 2020.
However, the FAO warned that the pest continues to spread, exposing new farmers and their livelihoods.
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