Action plan developed to tackle fall armyworm in Africa

Laboratory investigating biological control of pest insects
Copyright: Panos

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  • A meeting has called for a research strategy to control fall armyworm
  • The pest attacks maize and has been found in several African countries
  • An expert says controlling it could improve the livelihoods of women farmers

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[ACCRA] Research that explores the interaction between fall armyworm life patterns and insecticide spray timing is urgently needed to tackle the pest currently devastating maize in Africa, scientists say.

The fall armyworm, scientifically called Spodoptera frugiperda, is native to the Americas, and attacks maize and a variety of other food crops in various African countries including Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, South Africa and Zambia.

The scientists were speaking at a consultative workshop convened by the UK-based Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) and Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate last month (20-21 April).

“Information on the pest needs to be collected at the country level and analysed centrally through national-level monitoring systems.”

Roger Day, CABI

The workshop was attended by key actors in research institutes, universities, international development organisations and farmer-based organisations in Ghana to develop short- and long-term action plans to control the pest.

According to scientists, by June 2018, studies should have assessed whether spraying early before the fall armyworm eggs takes refuge in the flowers of a maize plant or later to control the eggs that would attack the cob could help fight the pest.

Roger Day, CABI’s sanitary and phytosanitary coordinator, recommends formulating a pesticide which can be mixed and applied by hands and cheaper for smallholder farmers to buy.

"Information on the pest needs to be collected at the country level and analysed centrally through national-level monitoring systems to make informed decisions,” he says.

The action plan also recommends research on long-acting residual insecticides that will reduce the number of applications needed to control fall armyworm to reduce costs to farmers by the end of December 2017.

By end of July this year, scientists would be undertaking laboratory tests on the efficacy of insecticides against fall armyworm and develop effective, low-toxicity, low-technology strategies for insecticide applications for smallholder farmers by the end of the year, the action plan adds.

Michael Osae, an entomologist, Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, underscores the need to understand the biology of the fall armyworm and regular armyworm to find out any competition between them, or share the same niche through research.

"In the short-term, we need to put in place theoretical resistance management strategy which involves rotating insecticides from different classes to help [control the pest] and collect data on that from the fields,” Osae tells SciDev.Net.

Benjamin Badu, an agricultural entomologist at the Ghana-based University for Development Studies, says that cost-benefit analysis is important because farmers’ decision on purchases of particular insecticide is first based on cost before efficacy.

Abraham Asare, programmes manager at Development Action Association, a non-profit organisation that empowers rural women farmers in Ghana, says that controlling the pest could improve the livelihoods of farmers, particularly women.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.