An outbreak of fall armyworm has been reported by the Government of South Sudan in the Equatoria region including Magwi, Yei and Juba, Northern Bahr el Gazal and parts of Jonglei area. Fall armyworm is a new pest in Africa, preferring maize plants, but feeds on sorghum, millet, vegetables and other crops as well. As maize and sorghum are staple foods in the country, the infestation is putting an increasing number of people at risk of hunger.
“It is nearly impossible to eliminate this pest from South Sudan – now that it is here, it will stay. Following its initial detection in Magwi Country, it is spread to nearly all areas of the country at an alarming rate,” explains Serge Tissot, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representative in South Sudan. “Given FAO’s experience with the pest in other countries in Africa, we can say this could be a significant blow to prospects of agricultural recovery.”
Currently, FAO in close partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security are continuing with assessment of fall armyworm infestation across the country. “The results of these assessments will give a more accurate picture of where the pest is found, and extent of crop yield losses incurred in the affected areas,” adds Tissot. “It is likely that it will spread both geographically and in intensity unless farmers learn to manage it.”
The fall armyworm arrival is an additional challenge for South Sudan which is currently facing an unprecedented food crisis. More than 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods.
“Experiences that have been shared in three regional technical meetings on fall armyworm convened by FAO point out difficulties that farmers are facing in controlling the pest. The range of options available for immediate response are limited as the knowledge of control interventions are low, and costs are high, leaving them out of reach for the majority of farmers in South Sudan,” explains Lawrence Kedi, FAO Agriculture Officer.
As this pest is new to Africa, understanding how it breeds, spreads and feeds is critical to managing it. As the moths of the pest are strong flyers and breed at a high rate, the infestation rates are very high, and it probably arrived in Africa without many of its natural controls (predators, parasitoids, and diseases) that help keep it in check in its native homeland. Also, the fall armyworm has developed resistance to several pesticides. This calls for more coordinated research on the pest to understand how it adapts to the local environments and training of farmers in how to manage it
In South Sudan, tackling this pest and avoiding further yield losses is key and requires quick and coordinated action. FAO, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, will launch a country-wide strategy and awareness campaign to promote effective and efficient control interventions as well as set up control committees to strengthen national surveillance and monitoring systems. Additionally, FAO plays a critical role in the fall armyworm response, through coordinated action across Africa.