As the fall armyworm continues to ravage crops in the region, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has come up with a mobile application to help farmers and governments fight the pest.
The Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System (Famews) will enable farmers and agricultural workers to report the level of infestation and map the spread of the pest, and the measures that are most effective in managing it.
The FAO has already provided the app to 336 community focal people. Experts say that spotting the pest when it is still a larva is key to prevention.
“The app will help us build our collective knowledge of fall armyworm in Africa, and connect all the dots, that is from how and where it spreads to what makes it weaker and less damaging,” said FAO senior agricultural officer Keith Cressman.
“The app is useful on two fronts: For farmers and agricultural workers in the direct management of their crops to prevent further infestations and reduce damage, and for all actors involved in managing fall armyworm in Africa by providing vital analysis on risks, spread and management.”
Once farmers and workers check their crops for infestation and upload the required data, the app calculates infestation levels.
The data is captured by national fall armyworm focal points and transferred to a global web-based platform. It is then analysed to give a real-time situation overview with maps and the measures that were most effective in reducing its impact.
The FAO says updates to the app in the coming months will provide additional functionality such as an offline advisory system that provides immediate guidance to the user, based on the collected data, and a tool that will use a mobile phone camera to determine the pest’s damage to the maize.
The worm has already infected millions of hectares of maize in Africa - the staple food across the continent-- threatening the food security of more than 300 million people.
“The worm tears the crop apart. When you watch it feed, it ploughs through the maize comb, or the leaf and as it is feeding. The waste comes out immediately, that means it never gets full. It is a voracious pest,” said FAO crop production officer for East Africa Matthew Abang.
“The cost of fall armyworm is not just the drop in yield. There are serious post-harvest consequences in terms of micro toxin contamination of maize like aflatoxin ,”said Dr Abang.
The pest is found in all 121 districts of Uganda, all the 47 counties of Kenya, all 17 provinces of Burundi, the whole of Ethiopia and all the 30 districts of Rwanda. South Sudan has been partly affected, and the pest has not been reported in Djibouti yet.
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 food shortage after the worm attacked six major farming areas.
There are no known chemicals that have been developed specifically to kill the fall armyworm.