Fall army worm is here to stay unless a miracle happens

Dr. Victor Toroitich at the Tunis meeting. [Photo: Gardy Chacha/Standard]
Speaking at a meeting on disaster risk management in Tunis, Monday Ahonsi, the fall army worm portfolio manager at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), said it was important that stakeholders in agriculture address early enough the strategies by which every country will counter the spread of the pest.

“This pest was first discovered in South America. It is there even today. It was first detected in Africa – in West Africa – in 2016. It has spread throughout sub-Sahararan Africa,” Mr Ahonsi explained.

CIMMYT has developed crop breeds that have offered some resistance to the worm but Ahonsi says the only sure method to deal with the pest is through genetic engineering – technology that cannot be used in Kenya as current laws do not allow.

Only South Africa – in sub-Saharan Africa – allows for GMO crops.

As millions of East African farmers seek to recover from a devastating drought, they face a new threat of the fall armyworm. The pest is suspected to have entered Kenya from Uganda. It is also known to be present in Burundi, Ethiopia and Rwanda. The fall armyworm was first reported in Western Kenya by farmers in March 2017.

The government recently launched a short text messaging service to help small scale farmers fight the fall army worm across the country. The service will give millions of smallholder farmers free expert help and advice to tackle the devastating pest through information via mobile SMS text messaging.

Dr Johnson Irungu, director of crop management at Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, said his ministry has so far spent over Sh300 million in buying chemicals to fight the pest.

Chemicals

Even after spending all that, farmers said chemicals were not working. We realised the farmers lacked proper knowledge for instance on when and how to spray their crops,” he said. Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) has joined forces with the ministry, the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), and Safaricom to provide the service, called ‘MoA-INFO’, to maize farmers throughout the country. “We are now implementing the two-way platform on behalf of the ministry after developing a set of short texts about fall army worm covering various topics, among them monitoring, identification, non-chemical and chemical control measures and best practices,” said Emmanuel Bakirdjian, PAD Country Director. The organisation has already completed multiple rounds of piloting and testing of the SMS platform with 1.4 million farmers in Western on the Safaricom platform.

To join the platform, Bakirdjian says you text the word ‘FARM’ for English messages or ‘SHAMBA’ for Kiswahili messages, then send to 40130. Once on board, the information has been customised to suit every farmer’s need and all one has to do is answer simple questions for customised feedback.

At the meeting, Rift Valley Fever and Foot and Mouth disease were also discussed – diseases which threaten farmers’ source of livelihoods as well as that of humans.

The two diseases are synonymous with floods. Rift Valley Fever, a viral disease, infects humans through handling of infected animals and meat.

“The average Kenyan farmer does not know how to handle these diseases when epidemics occur,” said Dr Victor Toroitich, a veterinarian working with World Animal Protection in Nairobi. -GARDY CHACHA in Tunis.

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