In collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other development partners, the Government of Ethiopia has intensified efforts to protect major maize growing areas from the ravage of the fall armyworm.
The fall armyworm, which first arrived in Africa in 2016, was intercepted on a few hectares of irrigated maize fields in southern Ethiopia in the last week of February 2017. It has now covered about 52 962 hectares in 144 districts in three of the major maize-growing regional states – Gambella, Oromia and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).
Tazelekew Habtamu, a maize farmer in southern Ethiopia where the insect set foot for the first time in Ethiopia, observed unusual insect pest infestation on his maize farm in the first week of March 2017. He reported the case to a local agriculture extension worker, who facilitated immediate pesticide spraying. “At first, the fall armyworm infestation was huge,” said Tazelekew. “The pesticide spray killed most of the pests. I would have lost my maize plants if I did not use the pesticide. However, some remnants of the fall armyworm are still attacking my maize field.”
The fall armyworm is a migratory insect pest known to cause massive destruction of maize crops under warm and humid conditions in the Americans. In Ethiopia, maize fields planted in belg and meher seasons in the prevailing warm and moist weather conditions provide favorable environment for the insect to multiply massively and spread to more areas.
“The weather conditions from March to September in maize growing areas provide fertile ground for the insect to mass multiply and spread easily,” said Zebdewos Salato, Director of the Plant Protection Directorate at the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Aided by wind front, the fall armyworm of a single generation can spread quickly as far as 500 km away from its point of emergence.
“We expect the infestation to spread to other regions and cover wider areas in the coming months,” he said. “Many farmers in the regions have already planted maize or will plant in June. As more areas plant maize it is very likely that the pests will spread to more maize areas including in Afar, Amhara, Benishangul Gumz, Oromia and Tigray. We are working hard to make vulnerable regions aware of the need to prepare for possible fall armyworm infestation.”
“The insect is establishing itself and is expected to remain an economic pest for very long time to come hence we need to put in place a short and long term fall armyworm management and control plan,” said Bayeh Mulatu, National Integrated Pest Management Expert at FAO Ethiopia.
For the current season, pesticides have been recommended, as the infestation is massive. Farmers are being advised to handpick the insect when the infestations are very low or apply contact and systemic pesticides using knapsack sprayers when the infestation is significant to cause economic damage, he said.
Farmers are informed to undertake routine monitoring of their farms and exercise handpicking of larvae, which escape the pesticide. According to recent reports, about 24 000 hectares of maize fields have been sprayed with about 36 000 litres of pesticides, and about 12 600 hectares of land have been covered by handpicking the fall armyworm.
However, the control effort has its own challenge. The Government of Ethiopia allocated nearly USD 2 million to tackle the problem. “With this resource, we purchased pesticide and managed to cover only 44 percent of the total maize field so far infested by the fall armyworm,” Zebdewos said. “Taking into consideration the growing infestation of the insect in the wider regions and the below 50 percent infested are treated using pesticides, it would be a big challenge for the Ethiopian Government to address the problem fully. We have challenges with in carrying out effective fall armyworm monitoring, supply of safety outfits, working spraying equipment and other logistics.”
According to Zebdewos, even if the control activities are progressing, the impacts of the pest infestation will negatively affect the production of maize in this year, as it takes time for the affected plants to recover.
The Africa wide meeting on the fall armyworm that was held in Nairobi, Kenya gave the responsibility to FAO to coordinate interventions to bring the fall armyworm problem under control. In addition to funding of USD 52 000, FAO supports the Government’s prevention efforts with expert advice and consultation, and facilitation of field assessments, surveillance and monitoring. In addition, in collaboration with the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) and other development partners, FAO is developing a project to derail the insect expansion and mass multiplication so that yield loss could be minimized significantly.
In Ethiopia, about nine million smallholder farmers grow maize on 2 million hectares of land, and 75 percent of the maize produced is consumed family as food. Dry stock is mainly used for animal feed and part as fuel and the rest left to decay and amend soil.
Amadou Allahoury, FAO Representative in Ethiopia said, “Millions of Ethiopian farmers rely on maize crop as staple food. The livelihood of these smallholder farmers will be at stake if the threat of the pest is not foiled. As FAO, we will continue providing the needed support to the Government in its efforts to tackle the problem.”