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Farmers cry for help as armyworms ravage crops

By Silah Koskei and HAROLD ODHIAMBO | Published Thu, May 18th 2017 at 08:10, Updated May 18th 2017 at 08:15 GMT +3

As fall armyworms continue to wreak havoc on farms across the country, experts are warning that the damage could worsen the current food crisis.

A report by the State Department of Agriculture had initially indicated that a field survey conducted in March revealed that the armyworms had invaded at least 10 counties, including Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Kakamega, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho, Baringo, Nakuru and Busia.

The pests have since spread to other regions.

The report said the pests were ravaging off-season maize in irrigated areas in the 10 counties.

“These pests are spreading rapidly and have the potential to cause 100 per cent loss in a wide range of crops such as maize, rice, pasture, sorghum, millet, cotton, and some vegetable crops. This will result in national food insecurity and loss of income unless urgent measures are implemented,” the report warned.

Poor harvests

A spot check by The Standard shows that the pest has spread to Nyanza region’s six counties and that farmers are bracing themselves for poor harvests.

One of the distraught farmers , Sam Onyach, said the worms had destroyed all the crop on his one-acre farm.

“I won’t have anything to harvest. The crop has refused to flower because of the destruction of the worms. I bought herbicides and sprayed the entire farm but I think the damage had already been done,” said Onyach from Kasipul in Homa Bay county.

In Uasin Gishu, officials also warned that more than 20,000 acres under maize had been infested by the worm.

Situation worrying

The agriculture executive, Dr Cyril Cheruiyot, said the situation was worrying as the worms have spread to most maize farms in the county and called for emergency measures by the crop protection unit.

He said attempts to contain the worms using Sh2 million worth of pesticides procured using the county emergency fund have not succeeded as the pests continue to invade more farms in the six constituencies.

“Efforts to mitigate the spread of the pests and laying of eggs on farms have been hampered by inadequate funds and that is why we appeal to the national government to assist farmers who risk losing their crops to the worms,” said Cheruiyot.

He explained that the worms have spread to Ainabkoi constituency, a region that most agricultural experts thought would not be affected, causing concern among farmers.

Cheruiyot said the changing weather patterns were partly to blame for the spread of the pest.

He said the migratory nature of the moths and their life cycle have complicated matters.

The fall armyworm caterpillars are green, brown, or black in colour, depending on the stage of development.

According to the State Department of Agriculture, it is a migratory pest native to North and South America. It occurs in large numbers and its caterpillars cause severe damage to more than 80 plant species, especially cereal crops such as maize and rice.

A mature caterpillar has a distinct white line between the eyes, which form an inverted “Y” pattern on the face (this is seen when the worm is placed facing you).

In addition, there are pronounced four black spots aligned in a square on top of the eighth segment near the back end of the caterpillar.

Sh200m programme

From the first to the third instar, the caterpillars are small and their initial infestation of crops often goes unnoticed.

“The Agriculture Ministry had assured us that it would spend Sh200 million on eradicating the worm through sensitisation and spraying of affected farms across the country. We continue to receive reports on the spread of the pests to farms. We need assistance,” Cheruiyot said.

The government in April rolled out a Sh200 million programme to eradicate the worm that has threatened crop production in most parts of the country.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said the initial intervention targeted 11 counties that had reported the invasion of the pest.

Cheruiyot said extension officers had been instructed to move around farms in the county. He cautioned farmers against falling prey to unscrupulous traders who might want to sell to them pesticides not suitable for the pests.

“Our staff has also been trained on the management of the worm and it will be ideal for the national government to liaise with the county by providing additional funds before the maize starts producing tassels,” he said.

The national government has, however, insisted that it is the responsibility of every county to ensure that it combats the pests. Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe, in a phone interview, called for a collaborative approach in combating the pest menace. He said funds were available for the purchase of pesticides and that counties should liaise with the ministry.

Avert crisis

“Other counties have set aside enough funds and Uasin Gishu should follow suit. The role of the national government is to support the management of the worms. I urge them to inform us on the current situation so that we can assist,” said Dr Lesiyampe.

Speaking to The Standard from Suba in Homa Bay County, another farmer, Peter Mireri, said the worms had damaged several acres of crop.

In Kisumu, the county government has moved in to avert the crisis. The county executive member for agriculture, Henry Obade, said his office had distributed more than 200 litres of chemicals to help in the fight against the pest, which has invaded a number of farms in Kisumu, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, and Bungoma.

Farmers in Kisumu have been staring at massive crop failure after the worms invaded their farms.

Obade said that two types of armyworms have been reported. He said one type is easy to control because it dies soon after it is sprayed with chemicals.

“The county government bought chemicals worth Sh3 million and we want to use them to fight this pest that is threatening our food security,” said Obade.

The chemicals will be handled by experts stationed at sub-counties who have been carrying out surveillance across to establish where the worms are.

He said that a chemical known as Engeo 247 SC would help battle the fall armyworm, which is resistant to a number of chemicals.

“The African armyworm, on the other hand, is easy to control because it dies almost immediately. We want to ensure that our farms are free from armyworms,” said Obade.

He urged farmers to report to his officers when they spot the worm that can fly for up to 30 kilometres.

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