OPINION: Salvaging African farmers from the Scourge of Fall Armyworm

By Patrick Kormawa, PhD.

The last few decades have been the period of transformation for many nations in the Eastern Africa Region.

We witnessed significant economic and political changes, which, in many ways, have substantially improved the living conditions of millions of people whose life is heavily dependent on agriculture.

While conceding this positive change, we are still striving to tackle existing and emerging challenges.

The Fall Armyworm is one of these challenges, which is jeopardizing the lives of millions of people who have been struggling to come out of the grips of hunger and malnutrition.

The Fall Armyworm has been detected in almost all Eastern Africa countries, including Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda. It feeds on 80 different plant species but the most prevalent strain eats maize, which is the staple of millions of people across the subregion.

Tenth of thousands of hectares have already been ravaged and the infestation rate is known to be 80 to 100 percent.

The pest is expected to further spread both geographically and in intensity in the subregion. This would escalate the existing regional humanitarian crises, unless we act timely and strongly.

Today, almost 18 million people in the subregion are severely food insecure because of poor rainfall.

The Fall Armyworm is just aggravating the plight of communities and adding more pressure on our development and emergency efforts.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to support national governments, regional economic communities and the African Union Commission in their effort to manage the spread of the worm.

As the AUC Deputy Chairperson, H.E. H.E. Quartey Kwesi Thomas said in his recent media briefings, “failure to control the pest would result in serious food and social insecurity” in the whole of Africa and the Eastern Africa Region in particular.

We recognise that tackling the menace of the Fall Armyworm for smallholders across the region requires a quick and coordinated action, a massive awareness campaign, scientific innovation and multi-institutional collaboration.

In this regard, FAO is collaborating with the African Union Commission and other partners to take short, medium and long-term measures.

In the short term, FAO through South-South Cooperation will continue to bring in expertise and knowledge gained from relevant sources and adapt them to Africa.

From this knowledge, a sustainable management program for farmers will be designed. In the medium and long term, FAO will support African countries’ understanding and knowledge on how to sustainably manage the worm, based on area-wide monitoring, and consolidated knowledge on patterns and ecologies of the pest in Africa as well as reliable data on yield losses and socioeconomic impact.

Development of long-term solutions will be based on using a truly agro-ecosystems approach based on the experience from the Americas and regional research results.

So far, FAO, together with the African Union Commission, has taken bold steps to raise awareness among the political leadership on the state of Fall Armyworm infestation in Africa.

Through our regional offices, we collaborated with the African Union Commission to sensitize member states and the media on the impacts of the Fall Armyworm on smallholders.

We will continue to collaborate with the Commission to sensitize Ministers responsible for agriculture during the African Union Second Specialized Technical Committee Meeting in October 2017.

The recommendations of the Committee would be presented to the Executive Council of the Union during the January 2018 Summit for consideration and presentation to the African Union Assembly.

On the technical part, FAO, through its Africa regional and subregional offices, partnered with AUC to develop a region-wide coping strategy

The development of farmers’ field school curriculum on Fall Armyworm management and setting up a monitoring and early warning systems are among the major actions to be incorporated in the strategy.

Together, we will also develop an information portal where African nations can easily obtain updated information on Fall Armyworm from field surveillance and from scientists.

FAO, in collaboration with partners will continue to assist AUC and the member countries in Africa, farmers’ organizations and individual farmers to sustainably manage the Fall Armyworm, before the worm becomes a perpetual threat to African farmers.

Dr. Patrick Kormawa is the FAO Eastern Africa Sub-regional Coordinator.


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