South Sudan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed a five-year plan for sustainable management and control of Fall Armyworm in the country. Expected to cost $26 million, the Strategic Plan for Sustainable Management of Fall Armyworm in South Sudan includes guidance to help the country mobilize resources to significantly reduce yield losses from infestation by the pest. Native to the Americas, Fall Armyworm first arrived in Africa in 2016 and has quickly spread across the continent. South Sudan reported it first in 2017 and the pest has now spread across the entire country.
“The highest level of infestation was recorded in the Eastern Equatoria and Central Equatoria regions,” says Pierre Vauthier, FAO Deputy Representative in South Sudan. “This strategic plan provides a chance for effective management and control of Fall Armyworm in order to reduce crop damage and yield loss.” The pest feeds on more than 80 host plants, but prefers maize or sorghum, the major staple crops in South Sudan. Any production loss to this pest is likely to have a significant impact on the already precarious food security situation in the country. The latest food security situation analysis also shows that around two-thirds of the population are at risk of extreme food insecurity.
Severity data reported from the Greater Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal regions indicate that yield losses in maize could be between 20 to 50 percent. The losses in sorghum are expected to be lower, around 10 to 30 percent, due to the greater resistance of the major varieties to the pest.
An immediate impact
FAO has been working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) since the Government of South Sudan declared an outbreak of the pest in July 2017. Through the financial contribution from the Government of Japan of $1 million, FAO and the MoAFS have been able to develop the five-year national FAW Strategy and train trainers at the national, state, county and village levels, as well as training NGOs that work with farmers.
Thanks to this training, farmers like Alice Sunday are able to avoid significant yield losses. Alice tends a small plot of maize in her compound on the outskirts of Juba. At the beginning of the year, the pest heavily infested her maize plants.
FAO trained staff at a local NGO, Organic Farming Advisory Organization. The NGO employees then taught Alice and other farmers Fall Armyworm management techniques. She learnt how to scout her fields for eggs and larvae, physical picking and destruction, and the use of local organic pesticides such as a solution made from neem leaves to deter the pest. Now, she has harvested the first round of maize and planted a second crop. “If I did not do the training then my maize would not have grown well,” she says. “Fall Armyworm would have eaten it all and I would have had a big loss.”
Using technology to learn more
More so, FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security are implementing a pest monitoring and early warning system that will give farmers and stakeholders nearly real-time information about the spread of Fall Armyworm. FAO will distribute electronic tablets to 220 Village Facilitators and Crop Monitoring Committee members to use for monitoring activities. Using a simple mobile application installed on the tablet, users will be able to instantly document and share information about the location and severity of infestations.
“The data will be uploaded directly to a server at the FAO headquarters in Rome. A heat map will be automatically generated, making the aggregated analysis immediately available to the community members in South Sudan,” Mr. Vauthier explains. Information about when and where infestations occur will allow farmers and officials to better predict and manage the threat posed by Fall Armyworm.