Fall armyworm in Africa: communicating out of a crisis

Interview 1

Take a quick look at the map of the fall armyworm invasion. It gives you a good feel for the number of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa directly affected by a small caterpillar eating their staple crop – maize – at a rapid rate. As a communication professional working in agriculture, it has been the first time I have found it so easy to explain my work – “ah yes, you are working on this ‘worm’… it is causing so many problems for farmers here” is the response I now get.

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Investigating the impacts of the invasive species Prosopis in Baringo, Kenya

The Baringo district northwest of Nairobi is one of the regions in Kenya where a number of mesquite species, Prosopis spp., were introduced some 40 years ago as part of poverty alleviation efforts. The trees were intended to provide, among other benefits, additional income.

Today Baringo is one of the most heavily invaded regions in eastern Africa, with severe consequences for the rural communities. As part of the kick-off meeting of the recently launched, Swiss government funded R4D (research for development) project called “Woody Weeds”, the project team visited the district, one of the case study areas in the project.

During this two-day visit, two communities were visited which suffered from high Prosopis invasion levels. These communities gave an interesting first insight into the dilemmas that have arisen due to Prosopis invasion. The first community we visited utilizes Prosopis for charcoal production and hopes to benefit in the future also from selling Prosopis wood to a local power plant; by utilizing this invasive species the community members gain some financial benefits and at the same time reduce the impacts of this plant on their land.

Irrespective of how the local communities deal with this invasive species, one of the main challenges in management is to find ways to slow down or reduce the spread of Prosopis and mitigate its negative impacts in Baringo (and elsewhere). While the government of Kenya supports local communities in utilizing Prosopis, there is, so far, little scientific evidence that utilization indeed slows down or even stops the spread of this aggressive invader.

One of the key tasks of the “Woody Weeds” project will therefore be the evaluation of the impacts on the environment and rural livelihoods of the various management options against Prosopis and other woody invasive species, such as management by utilization, physical, chemical or biological control, or doing nothing, and to inform decision-makers about the key findings.

Urs Schaffner, CABI

Tuta absoluta on the rampage in Africa

Watch a new video illustrating the devastating impacts that Tuta absoluta is having on tomato yields, and what this means for farmers who rely on these crops for sustenance and income.

Dr Arne Witt, from CABI commented on the implications of Tuta absoluta infestation across Africa

“Tomatoes are one of the most widely cultivated crops in Africa and are grown in the backyards of almost every homestead across sub-Saharan Africa. This important cash crop and source of vitamins is now threatened by the recent arrival of the tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta.

This Invasive Alien Species is rapidly moving down the African continent, having already decimated crops in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and northern Tanzania. Growers are at their wits end as to how best they can control this pest and many have abandoned tomato growing altogether. The race is on to prevent its spread further south with various interventions planned to mitigate its impact in areas where it is already present.”

For more information on Tuta absoluta visit the Invasive Species Compendium and the Plantwise Knowledge Bank.