Now experts ponder crushing fall armyworm

Thursday October 12 2017

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

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

By MARYANNE GICOBI
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Scientists are looking into the possibility of physically crushing the fall armyworm as one of the measures of fighting the pest, which has ravaged crops, especially maize in parts of East Africa.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the crushing method would provide an alternative to pesticides that farmers are using, albeit with dire consequences to the environment and human health.

“This mechanical control is an option as it does not have a negative impact on the environment, as we look for sustainable solutions such as biopesticides,” said FAO East Africa co-ordinator for resilience Cyril Ferrand, adding that some pesticides are also not cost-effective.

In Kenya, the pest has destroyed between 11,000 and 15,000 hectares of maize, and in Rwanda, the figure stands at more than 15,300 hectares. In Ethiopia, 1.7 million hectares of maize have been destroyed — approximately 22 per cent of the total maize planted in the country.

South Sudan is experiencing a shortage of food after an attack of the worm affected six major farming areas. Uganda harvested less maize and sorghum after the fall armyworm infested four areas.

There are no known chemicals that have been developed specifically to kill the fall armyworm, leaving farmers to explore.

In Rwanda, the National Agricultural Research Organisation is planning to try biocontrol agents like parasitoids, predators and possibly viruses and bacteria to manage the fall armyworm.

In countries like Honduras, Brazil, Barbados and Venezuela — that have managed to contain the fall armyworm — both egg and larval parasitoids have been used in maize, sorghum and vegetable farms.

Parasitoids are organisms whose larvae live as parasites that eventually kill their hosts.