Rwanda faces hunger in coming months after an attack of the fall armyworm caught the country off guard, ravaging hectares of crops in the eastern, northern and western parts of the country.
Thousands of fall armyworm pests attacked crops last week causing massive losses to maize and sorghum farmers countrywide.
A section of the cereal farmers decried the high cost of pesticides and lack of information about pest control as the support provided by the government is limited to areas with large farms.
The pest, which currently poses a major threat to food security in neighbouring countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, has so far spread to all the 30 districts in the country from about 20 last week.
Latest reports show the trans-boundary pest has so far attacked more than 15,300 hectares of maize plus an unknown quantity of sorghum.
There are fears it could attack rice and sugarcane crops in what officials describe as a nationwide outbreak that is likely to reduce cereal production in the country’s 2017B agriculture season.
Efforts by agriculture ministry technicians, the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF)and the police to stop the pest from spreading have not been successful.
“Measures to contain the pest are still ongoing and we can only assess the effects after three or four weeks given the nature and cycle of the insect,” Telesphore Ndabamenye, head of crop production and food security at Rwanda Agriculture Board told Rwanda Today.
However, farmers in parts of the country said their farms had already been depleted and pleaded to be allowed to uproot the affected crops and replace them with others before it is too late.
Except for farmers with large farms who got pesticides and spraying equipment, small-scale farmers still grapple infested small maize and sorghum fields.
This is because the spread of the fall armyworm in the region led to a hike in prices of pesticides.
Farmers in Eastern, Northern and Western Provinces said the Rwf10,000 pesticide now costs Rwf15,000.
“The one litre pesticide spray can be used on one hectare, but each hectare must be sprayed twice a day until the insect disappears from the farm. This is expensive,” said Faustin Nzamurambaho, a farmer in Rulindo district.
The Ministry of Agriculture had projected increased maize production this year to at least 781,000 tonnes in the first season, up from 652,000 tonnes in a similar period last year.
Officials said the armyworms had attacked an acreage amounting to about 16 per cent of the total 63,000 hectares of maize plantation.
Agro-dealers blame the price hike of pesticides on the increase in demand.
“The market is not regulated, and the demand is high,” said Evariste Safari an agricultural manager at Balton, a local pesticides dealer.
In addition to pesticides being unaffordable, the government’s efforts to control the armyworm outbreak have encountered confusion about which pesticide is most effective in controlling the pest. There has also been a lack of information about the pest.
Currently, scientists are yet to develop a specific pesticide to fight the pest in this region.
Rwanda is using Pyretrum EWC+ pesticide produced by Sopyrwa, a Ministry of Defence affiliated company. So far, 4,500 litres have been distributed.
Last week, RDF helicopters airlifted the pesticide to different parts of the country.