Ms Regina Eddy, Policy and Engagement Coordinator of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) Taskforce of the USAID Bureau of Food Security, says the pest has come to stay in Africa, and governments must find the appropriate solutions to manage the impacts of the worms.
She said the pest was projected to become endemic in Africa, where it arrived from the Americas over a year ago, posing a threat to the gains made in alleviating hunger, poverty and ensuring food security in Africa.
She made the statements during a telephonic press conference on the Fall Armyworm and its impact on the African continent.
Ms Eddy said the eggs and moths of the FAW were likely to live on farms in Africa throughout the year as the unique climatic conditions in sub-Saharan Africa matched the ideal environment for the pest.
“Unfortunately it has found a climatic zone where it’s very comfortable and will most likely live throughout the year. There’ll be frost, for example, to kill off the moths and the eggs, so this is one of the reasons we expect it to become endemic and why we view it as a serious pest that requires an urgent response,” she stated.
The pest, she said, had over the past year, been identified in over 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and had the potential to cause billions of dollars in damage and put hundreds of millions at risk of hunger.
This was because the FAW was resistant to many conventional pesticides and had a voracious appetite that particularly targeted maize, a vital staple crop for about 300 million small holder farmers in Africa.
“The pest can consume 25 to 50 percent of the maize crop in a given year. It also attacks some 80 other plants; we’re hearing reports of millet, sorghum, rice, cotton, and sugar,” she said, noting the fact that there was a wide variety of host plants that it will feed on and destroy, was of major concern.
Ms Eddy said there were various technologies that could be explored to manage the pests.
One of them was the host plant resisting the attack of the FAW thus they had researched seeds and genetically modified crop. There was also a range of biological methods as well as landscape measures such as intercropping the maize with beans.
She said governments across Africa needed to develop Integrated Pest Management Plan at the national level to help manage the pests.
She said the USAID had developed an Integrated Pest Management Guide and from that a series of dissemination tools that reached farmers quickly, including text messages, picture-based clips that showed clearly how to identify the markings of the FAW, among others.
She noted that the biggest challenges in the response to the invasion of the pests in Africa were a lack of knowledge to aid in correctly identifying the FAW and technologies to manage them.
This, she said, required basic transfer of knowledge as well as opening of doors for the flow of a number of valuable technologies being used in the Americas.
“That requires a variety of things: country governments want to see local surveys to validate the usefulness of technologies; some of those are happening but all of them need to progress rapidly.
“And then we need to open up the policy and regulatory environment so that technologies can be correctly distributed, with standard norms and standard labels, and the user can understand how to consistently and successfully use them,” she said.