FAO updates SADC Ministers on fall armyworm and locust invasion

Preliminary assessments, conducted between mid-February and end of April 2017, have shown that approximately 356 000 hectares of crops were affected by the fall armyworm infestation in seven reporting Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Member States (Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia).

Speaking at the SADC Joint Extraordinary Meeting of Ministers responsible for Agriculture, Food Security, Fisheries and Aquaculture held in the Kingdom of Swaziland (19 May 2017), FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri, said that the region (with the exception of Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles) had been affected by the cereal-devouring pest. “So far, preliminary assessments are pointing at crop losses ranging from 2 to 10 percent”.

Currently, the SADC Member States are concluding impact assessment of fall armyworm infestation. “The results of these assessments will give a more accurate picture of the yield losses in the region,” said Phiri.

Increasing incidents of crop pests and diseases

The discussions also focused on the increasing frequency, intensity and severity of transboundary pests in the region. The Honorable Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Swaziland, Senator Paul Dlamini, said climate variability in the form of prolonged dry spells and heavy rains were negatively impacting agricultural production in the region.

“These conditions variably provide a conducive breeding ground and environment for pests and diseases, which are a threat to food security,” he said. The fall armyworm came when the region was also dealing with Tuta absoluta, lethal maize necrosis disease, banana bunchy bop virus disease, Fusarium Oxysporum, wilt and fruit fly.

FAO to contribute to coordinating Southern Africa’s research agenda

The meeting requested South Africa to lead the research on fall armyworm, based on their capacity and experiences. They will collaborate with the FAO Subregional Office for Southern Africa, the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) and the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA) as well as the SADC Secretariat.

In April 2017, stakeholders who met in Nairobi for a continental Strategy and Management Meeting on fall armyworm also requested FAO to coordinate the response in Africa. The Ministers expressed concern that the fall armyworm and other crop pests and diseases had come at a time when cereal production of mainland SADC Member States was reducing; from 42 000 MT in 2012 to 38 000 MT last season. In addition to sorghum, wheat and rice, the fall armyworm is known to mainly attack maize, the most important staple in Southern Africa.

Sustainable pest management programme for Africa

Phiri informed the Ministers that so far, no single strategy or pesticide had been found to successfully control the fall armyworm in Southern Africa. “Experiences that have been shared in three technical meetings convened by FAO point to difficulties that farmers are facing in controlling the pest. They are mostly applying pesticides at dosage rates recommended for other caterpillars, hand picking and using other concoctions”, he said.

He recommended that to have effective and efficient control interventions, there was a need to strengthen the region’s surveillance and monitoring systems and coordinated research on the pest to understand how it will adapt to the situation in the area. Phiri also recommended that countries adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies that are cost-effective and less harmful to human health and the environment. “IPM emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms,” he said.

Dealing with locust threat

Phiri informed the Ministers that Red Locust and African migratory locust populations had been sighted in the natural breeding areas in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and the United Republic of Tanzania. He called on the SADC Member States to provide support for aerial surveys and pest management so as to keep the locust from swarming and migrating to affect other areas.

Phiri also informed the Ministers that FAO, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), had made available financial resources for adult Red Locust control using metarhizium (a biopesticide) in the Lake Chilwa and Lake Chiuta plains.