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.
A major new report published by CABI has today revealed that losses due to fall armyworm are lower than projected in 2017 and the pest is still primarily focussed on maize rather than any other potential host crops. Better monitoring, swift responses by governments and farmers and an increase of natural enemies attacking the pest all help in mitigating the devastating crop losses it can cause.
Plantix is a diagnostic app that uses image recognition software and AI. It is being used to halt the advance of the fall armyworm pest.
An app that uses artificial intelligence to identify plant disease is being deployed in India as an early-warning system to stop the advance of a crop-destroying caterpillar that is having a devastating impact on maize crops in Africa.
“Usually I’m looking up at the stars but with this project, I’m back down to earth” quips Dr Rene Breton, Director of Research at the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester. By combining the skills of a geographer, ecologist, social scientist, entomologist, astrophysicist, biologist, and electrical engineer, the joint CABI and University of Manchester team aim to capitalise on the unique skills from each subject to tackle the highly invasive weed Parthenium in Pakistan using remote sensing.
First reported in Africa in September 2016, fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is now present in most sub-Saharan countries, where severe damage in maize fields has been observed. Kenya is one the countries that has not been spared the wrath of this invasive pest. Since it was first reported in Kenya’s western region (Trans Nzoia, Busia, and Bungoma counties) in March 2017, it has spread to 42 counties including the major seed and maize production areas of the Rift valley, coastal, and western regions.
Invasive alien plants contribute to land degradation by forming vast unproductive monocultures. These invasions have a negative impact on biodiversity, water resources, crop and pasture production, human and animal health, and as such undermine Africa’s ability to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals. Landscapes degraded as a result of unsustainable land-use practices are also more likely to be invaded by invasive plant species, making any attempts at restoration considerably more difficult. As such it is imperative that invasive species management forms an integral part of any attempt at landscape restoration. By actively removing invasive species, followed by restoration, livelihood outcomes will be enhanced across the continent.
Invasive apple snails, formerly known as Golden Apple Snails (GAS), are an invasive species that pose a threat to crops, ecosystems and even humans. These natives of South America have spread to many other parts of the world, through both deliberate and accidental introductions. Called apple snails because they can grow to the size of an apple or a tennis ball, these molluscs can wreak havoc on both agriculture and the environment, and can also carry diseases that infect humans. Invasive apple snails have been listed among the world’s 100 most invasive species by IUCN/GISD. Belonging to the genus Pomacea, there are several species of apple snail that have become invasive. In Southeast Asia, the most important of these pest species are P. canaliculata and P. maculata (formerly known as P. insularum).