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Region fights fall army worm invasion; maize, sugarcane farms under attack

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Armyworm invasion: The African armyworm is capable of destroying whole crops in a few days. PHOTO | AFP | CABI

Armyworm invasion: The African armyworm is capable of destroying whole crops in a few days. PHOTO | AFP | CABI 

By ALLAN OLINGO

Posted  Thursday, April 13   2017 at  15:58

In Summary

  • Kenya: Some maize fields have been attacked by the army worm, threatening the country’s already thin grain reserves as it seeks to avert $117 million in crop losses.
  • Uganda: Has allocated $6.85 million towards the purchase of chemicals, to save its farmers from a loss of 450,000 tonnes of grain valued at $200 million.
  • Tanzania: The insect species is said to have already destroyed about 3,000 hectares of maize farms in Chalinze ward. Government has pesticides worth $132,439, and is educating farmers on how to fight the worms.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have allocated more than $7.85 million for the purchase of specialised chemicals to fight the fall army worm, which is now threatening to wipe out the maize and sugarcane crop.

The destructive pest has wreaked havoc in Southern Africa in the past four months.

On April 5, Kenya said some of its maize fields had been attacked by the army worm, a threat to the country’s already thin grain reserves as it seeks to avert $117 million in crop losses.

The same day, Uganda allocated $6.85 million towards the purchase of the chemicals, to save its farmers from a loss of 450,000 tonnes of grain valued at $200 million.

Uganda’s Agriculture Minister Christopher Kibazanga said they were developing short- and long-term plans to contain the army worm.

“As an emergency measure, we have already set aside $6.85 million for the purchase of appropriate pesticides known to have worked successfully elsewhere in the control of army worms. So far, we have confirmed damages to both the maize and sugarcane crops,” Mr Kibazanga said.

Two weeks ago, Uganda said the army worm had infested its maize fields, leaving this year’s harvest in doubt and heightening concerns that Kenya would also be affected.

Maize-growing areas attacked

A taskforce comprising scientists and ministry officials was formed to combat the outbreak and the spread of the pests.

Johnson Irungu, the director of crops at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that Kenya had already sent a team of scientists to investigate reports that some maize farms in the western belt, the key production basket for the country’s grains, have been attacked.

“The team has been working with the farmers to verify these reports for the past two weeks. We are also working with local authorities to deal with the army worm attacks. We have asked the farmers to control them within their boundaries,” Mr Irungu said.

In a circular released recently, plant experts from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service and crop chemical firms will undertake joint inspections and come up with a mechanism to tackle the menace.

Tanzania has also sounded the alarm, even as other regional countries put in emergency measures after the pest’s invasion were reported in various maize-growing areas.

The insect species is said to have already destroyed about 3,000 hectares of maize farms in Chalinze ward in Tanzania.

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