Published: 14:38, April 25, 2022 | Updated: 14:38, April 25, 2022
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Insect invasion adds to strains on Africa's food crisis
By ​Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya

In addition to climate change-linked drought that has left millions of Africans on the verge of starvation, the fall armyworm invasion is further threatening the continent's food security, incomes and livelihoods.

The pest, first reported in Africa in 2016, is estimated to cause up to $9.4 billion in annual yield losses in Africa, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The fall armyworm feeds on the leaves, stems and reproductive parts of maize and 80 other plant species in cereals and vegetables.

In Kenya, farmers in the western part of the country have been alerted of the invasion of the destructive pests as the planting season continues. "There is a sporadic invasion of fall armyworms in maize fields and we are taking early precautions in sensitizing farmers on the need to report promptly to our extension officers," Reuben Seroney, county director of agriculture for Uasin Gishu, told Kenya News Agency last week.

"We have also received some assorted chemicals from the Ministry of Agriculture as a mitigation measure to prevent further attack."

Seroney said the worms have affected nearly 5,000 hectares of crops, most of it maize.

In Trans-Nzoia county, the county's agricultural officer Mary Nzomo told farmers to get pesticides at subcounty offices.

Fall armyworms have also been reported in more than 47 districts in Uganda, where they have greatly ravaged crops. The pests have also invaded neighboring Tanzania.

In a statement on Friday, Director-General of the FAO, Qu Dongyu, said only six African countries had reported the pest as of 2016. But it has spread to 78 countries in Africa, the Near East, Asia and the Pacific to date.

"Fall armyworm knows no boundaries and is continuing its rapid march across the globe," Qu said.

The FAO said the spread of fall armyworm is driving intensified pesticide use, putting human and environmental health at risk.

As part of response measures, the FAO said the maize hybrids tolerant to fall armyworm are now available from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center for testing and release in African countries.

The FAO has also tested integrated pest management tactics in eight geo-zones with good results.

The measures are already bearing fruit, with yield losses caused by fall armyworm having reduced to 5 percent and below in Burkina Faso since 2020.

Additionally, biopesticides and biological control have shown up to 90 percent field efficacy against the pest.

However, the FAO warned that the pest continues to spread, exposing new farmers and their livelihoods.

Despite the achievements, FAO warned that integrated pest management adoption and yield loss reduction are uneven from country to country, and as use of hazardous pesticides persists.