Fall Armyworm Threat Continues

As fall armyworm continues to spread across Africa, policymakers and development partners have increased their efforts to stop the pest’s reach and to mitigate its impact on the region’s agricultural production and food security.

As of December, FAO reported that the presence of fall armyworm had been confirmed in 28 African countries, with infestation suspected in an additional nine countries. The pest feeds on a variety of crops and has been particularly damaging to the region’s maize, rice, and sorghum production. Malawi recently instituted a maize export ban in response to the damage done to the country’s maize crop; the Malawian Government has reported that as many as two million people have been put at risk of food shortage due to the combination of fall armyworm and recent drought.

A variety of recommendations have been put forth to help governments respond to the crisis, including strengthening advisory services to increase farmers’ awareness of the signs and symptoms of fall armyworm infestation and increasing farmers’ access to pesticides and biopesticides that can help control the pest.

The Feed the Future program recently released a technical guide for integrated pest management in Africa, as well as a range of other coverage on the fall armyworm infestation. The technical guide focuses on the latest protocols for controlling fall armyworm, including monitoring practices, low-cost agronomic practices, the use of biological controls, the development of pest-resistant crop varieties, and the appropriate use of pesticides.

The guide concludes that fall armyworm is likely to persist in Africa for the foreseeable future; thus, policymakers need to take action now to establish flexible, scientifically sound responses that take the needs and capacities of smallholders into particular account. The guide will be continuously updated as new evidence emerges regarding best practices in fall armyworm control and eradication. 

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Busani Bafana/IPS