Kenya faces heavy losses from armyworm, US warns

Wednesday April 11 2018

A maize crop attacked by the fall armyworm. PHOTO | NMG

A maize crop attacked by the fall armyworm. PHOTO | NMG 

By KEVIN J KELLEY
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Kenya and other major maize-producing countries in Africa could incur staggering food and financial losses from the invasion of the fall armyworm, a US government official has warned.

Up to 50 per cent of an annual maize crop could be destroyed by the fall armyworm, said Regina Eddy, coordinator of a US Agency for International Development (USAid) task force focused on the threat.

The pest also attacks millet, sorghum, cotton, sugar and additional crops, Ms Eddy noted.

Although it only recently arrived from the Americas, the fall armyworm “will likely be in fields forever” in Africa, she added.

Ms Eddy cited a Brazilian farmer’s comment that “it’s like a marriage without a divorce.”

Sub-Saharan climate conditions are “ideal” for the rapid spread of the fall armyworm, she pointed out.

The absence of frost will enable the pest to live throughout the year, multiply quickly and damage crops over a wide area.

The anticipated ravages caused by the insect, which is actually a caterpillar and not a worm, could well worsen critical food shortages afflicting parts of Kenya and other African countries, Ms Eddy said.

“The first mouth that will be fed will be the fall armyworm’s,” she noted in regard to its impact on smallholders’ farms. In addition to depriving families of nourishment, the pest will take a toll on farmers’ incomes, Ms Eddy said.

USAid has yet to develop specific estimates for the monetary losses Kenya could suffer as a result of its invasion and occupation by the fall armyworm, Ms Eddy said.

She pointed, however, to a study commissioned last year by the British government’s Department for International Development.

It found that in 12 African countries total potential losses could range from $2.5 billion to $6.3 billion.