Mohamud Abdu stands tall in his maize field in Alaba, Ethiopia, a small agricultural district over 200 kilometers south of the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. Smooth green leaves reach up to his waist. The field is off a dirt road where children ride old bicycles and the occasional wooden cart, pulled by donkeys and piled high with people, passes by.
The sea of green where Abdu stands looks lush and healthy at first glance. The maize stalks are planted closely together and the leaves rustle gently in the wind. But upon inspection, these leaves are riddled with holes and plant detritus litter the remainder. Abdu pries open the whorl of a nearby maize plant with his fingers, and takes out a small caterpillar, roughly an inch long. It squirms on his palm.
Farmers in northern Ghana are beginning to get a taste of the latest movie out of the Box Office – it’s not a romantic comedy or a thriller – instead it’s a production that will help them get more from their soybean crops and protect their maize from the Fall armyworm caterpillar.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) recently offered prize money for the best and digital tools that can be used to help combat the fall armyworm (FAW), an invasive pest that has spread across Africa. The winners will be announced in the coming months.
Since 2017, CABI has been heavily involved in the international effort to develop and implement a continental framework for tackling fall armyworm in Africa. Initial meetings resulted in the development of a draft framework, which identified roles for different organisations involved in fall armyworm management globally and on the African continent, including CABI. This has culminated into what has officially become known as the Framework for Partnership for Sustainable Management of the Fall Armyworm in Africa.
The town of Livingstone, in the Southern Province of Zambia is world renowned for its magnificent views of the Victoria Falls. Annually, thousands of visitors flock this town to awe at one of the seven natural wonders of the world. A few kilometres away from this picturesque view lies Kazungula, a small border town between Zambia and Botswana, on the north bank of the Zambezi River. This area is lucky to have plenty of rain, and the residual moisture that remains in the soil enables farmers to plant a second crop of maize, referred to locally as “winter maize”. What would seemingly be a blessing has, however, become a quandary for the thousands of maize growers in Kazungula. The invasion of fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperdainto this area has conspired against the farmers to ensure they do not exploit this natural resource to its fullest benefit. First reported by Zambia to the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) in early 2017, fall armyworm is present in all ten of Zambia’s provinces and continues to rampage the country unabatedly.
From a distance, Wycliffe Ngoda’s two acres of shiny green maize crops look healthy and lush. But the tell-tale holes in the leaves and debris on the stems give away an increasingly dangerous secret hidden in more and more maize fields across Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. The rampant Fall Armyworm caterpillar is once again threatening harvests across the continent for a second year.
The pest, which arrived in Africa from the Americas in 2016, affected around 50,000 hectares of maize in Kenya alone last year, costing 25 per cent of the crop, according to government officials.
Research is currently underway to study new ways of encapsulating and applying entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN) to better combat the invasive and destructive fall armyworm in Africa.
PhD student Patrick Fallet is investigating the possibility of a novel biocontrol approach which will attract the armyworm caterpillars to beads containing biocontrol agents such as the insect-killing EPN.