Kenyan maize farmer George Ambuche prepared for the worst when the government recently declared that the rains had failed this season.
Ambuche, who had, however, planted in early April hoping that the rains would come, was relieved when it started late last month.
His crop on seven acres in Trans Nzoia, western Kenya, has been germinating well despite that the rains have been intermittent.
But his hope for better tidings was dashed last week when he discovered that the deadly fall armyworm has attacked his crop.
His farm is among tens of others in Kenya’s breadbasket which have been attacked again by the pest, piling misery on farmers who are already grappling with the effects of failed rain.
This is the third year in a row that the pest is attacking maize in the east African nation, with agriculture experts noting that the vagaries of climate change are getting worse.
The armyworm attack is expected to be worse this season due to insufficient rainfall, according to agricultural experts.
This is because the current dry weather following failed rains offers perfect conditions for the fall armyworms to reproduce and spread faster to other areas.
“Last year, things were a little better because the rains were adequate and they helped wash away the pest. We were, therefore, able to contain the armyworm attack and got good harvest,” said Ambuche on Thursday.
This season, however, fighting the nocturnal pest when the weather is dry is more challenging for the east African nation’s farmers.
“Most farmers planted about a month late due to delayed rains. My crop is now at 20 cm tall and it is heavily infested. The other years, armyworms have been attacking the crops when they are over 40 cm tall,” said Ambuche.
The current attack increases farmers’ cost of production, with prices of pesticides having gone up following introduction of value added tax on the products last year.
“We are buying a 100ml bottle of pesticide for 350 shillings (about 3.5 U.S. dollars) up from 2.9 dollars last year. County governments are offering subsidized chemicals to farmers but they can not reach all,” said Bernard Tarus, a farmer in Eldoret.
Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, a government agency, has warned that this year’s armyworm invasion would be worsened by the erratic rainfall.
Eliud Kireger, Kalro director-general, said that most of the attacked maize, which was grown late due to delayed rains, is still young making it more vulnerable to armyworm attacks. The country, is therefore, expected to lose more crop to the pest.
According to Mary Nzomo, Trans Nzoia agriculture executive, about 500 hectares of maize in the county have been infested by the pest.
Besides pesticides, the ministry of agriculture is advising farmers through an SMS service to use ash and even soapy water to eliminate the pests.
Last year, Kenya harvested some 46 million bags of maize, thanks to consistent rainfall and the curbing of armyworms, according to the agriculture ministry. Enditem