maize valued at $3 billion are at risk
By Jimoh Babatunde, with agency reports
WHEN it arrived Nigeria sometime in 2016 probably from western hemisphere, not many expected it to spread to over 40 countries in Africa in a year. That is the story of Fall armyworm that is marching across Africa, decimating crop lands and causing substantial financial losses, yet its soldiers are only 1.5 inches tall. There is fear that if nothing concrete is done that these ‘’soldiers’’ could have the equivalent of a nuclear effect with regard to agriculture on the continent.
Fall armyworm can be one of the more difficult insect pests to control in field corn. Late planted fields and later maturing hybrids are more likely to become infested.
Fall armyworm, according to research, causes serious leaf feeding damage as well as direct injury to the ear. While fall armyworms can damage corn plants in nearly all stages of development, it will concentrate on later plantings that have not yet silked.
Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, (CABI), noted that the fall armyworm poses a serious challenge and a significant risk to Africa’s food security.
“The pest’s ability to feed on a range of crop species means that smallholder farming systems in Africa, which are based on intercropping, are particularly vulnerable.
“Also, the rapid damage and migratory capacity of the pest, combined with its capacity to reproduce quickly in the right environmental conditions and its ability to rapidly evolve resistance to synthetic pesticides increase the region’s vulnerability.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, where fall armyworm is currently devastating maize crops, estimates indicate 13.5 million tons of maize valued at $3 billion are at risk in 2017-2018, which is equivalent to over 20 percent of total production for the region.
This was collaborated by the President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, who said the armyworm is a clear and present danger that needs urgent action by world’s governmental, non-profit, corporate, and academic leaders to address.
Speaking at the World Food Prize (WFP) Norman Borlaug Dialogue symposium in Des Moines, Iowa in USA last week, Adesina said with what the statistics of CABI revealed, “the impact is quite serious.”
He said with 2.5 million tonnes of maize valued at $3billion are at the risk of loss in sub-Sahara Africa, “that is a lot of money and that is almost 20% of all the maize on the continent.
“If you look at the area that is being affected, the maize is the most affected crop whether it is South Africa, Malawi, Gambia, all across, maize is what the army worm seems to love the most. Right now we have about 300,000 hectares of maize that is currently being affected.”
Prof. Pedro Sanchez , a soil scientist with the Florida University, said “I think the food production in Africa has improved in the last ten years, including Nigeria , now something that could be this devastatingly can set everyone back. Farmers that have already paid for having their field ploughed , bought seeds and fertilizer, may end up with nothing.” He added “I am not worried about the billion dollars that will be lost but the billions of farmers that are going to go hungry. Africa is very doing well in area of food security , so we need to tackle this issue of armyworm.”
Having agreed that there was urgent need to tackle the menace the Fall Army worm poses to food security in Africa, a special session was held at the just concluded 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa with the theme “The Fall Army Worm: a Clear and Present Danger to African Food Security.”
The 2017 World Food Laureate and President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Adesina said the issue now is how to deal with the Fall Armyworm, “what do we know and how do we deal with it? “The armyworm is a clear and present danger. Doing nothing is not an option. What we need are urgent actions to support Africa, to rapidly address this real threat to its food security.”
“ I think Africa is not the only part of the world to have had attack of army worm, so there is lot of knowledge in different parts of the world. So, there are lots of technologies that can be introduced from other parts of the world, a lot more work on early warning system is going to be very important, quick attention to extension services will be important too.”
Adesina outlined what is currently being done to combat the fall armyworm and what is necessary for success. “Other things I want to say as regards to armyworm are what it means for the Research & Development community.
“I think US department of Agriculture has lots of experience in this area , the University of Florida too has lots of experience in this area, so we are looking at building partnership that will allow us build partnership to deal with this particular issue.
“I think the power of the mobile phone should be put to use here, because there is no better ways in which farmers can detect and recognise it and send the information very fast through the mobile phones to extension agents or universities that will give them information on what to do to deal with it.”
He said AfDB, as part of its Feed Africa Fund, will be strengthening the national agricultural research system and the extension support system.
“Regardless of what you have, the national governments have to put in a lot of money into agriculture, including how to deal with some of these external shocks that do happen from time to time in agriculture.
Mr Pedro Sanchez, the 2002 World Food Prize laureate, said that fall armyworm has been in the United States of America for several years, yet the states never witnessed food shortage.
“We hope to galvanise those with resources and expertise to rush to the aid of those in need. Stopping the armyworm is the highest purpose to which we can dedicate this year’s Borlaug Dialogue,”.
Dr. Adesina, who said pest doesn’t need visas, called for good and co-ordinated regional surveillance system to be able to monitor the progress of different zones.
“The whole issue of good extension system allows you to have early detection and early monitoring system. I think a regional approach is something needed , look at it starting in a country in 2016 and spreading to 40 countries now. So, we need regional approach too.”
Nteranya Sanginga, director general of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture also said “We need to have cooperation among countries and employ integrated pest management systems.”
Robert Fraley, Executive Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto and the 2013 laureate, emphasized that a great deal is known about how to address the threat. In fact, the fall armyworm has long been in North America, but scientists and producers have largely been successful in containing it.
“The good news is that this threat is eminently preventable. We have strategies to detect the insect early, to stop its spread, and to identify crop varieties most resistant to it,” Fraley said. “The world’s anti-hunger community needs to invest the resources to put those tools to use.”
With the agreement that the threat is preventable, three World Food Prize Laureates, Pedro Sanchez, 2002; Robert Fraley, 2013 and Akinwumi Adesina, 2017, came up with call to action.
Scientists and producers
Speaking on the call to action, Pedro Sanchez said they are forming an advisory scientific board of two scientists attacking different parts of the problems that will be working very closely with the African Development Bank and with national institution in different countries affected by army worm.
He said “it may be the ministry of agriculture in your country, it could be universities or research bodies to help the countries organise themselves , do the scouting, millions of farmers reporting with their cell phones the style of this menace on their crops and together developing ways of tackling it.”
Martin Fregene, advisor to the vice president of Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the African Development Bank, said the advisory scientific board will help put together all the different efforts of CIMMYT, Mosanto and other universities in America working on armyworm.
“What we are going to do is to come up with a working plan that will include short time solution like surveillance, integrated pest management and more long time plan like crop resistant production. It is going to be like a steering committee to tackle this problem. After that, the AfDB is going to finance the regional response.”
On the immediate solutions that need to be put in place to curtail the fall armyworm, Prof. Sanchez said the first step seed production of resistant strain, “So we got to produce seeds, you get the seed companies producing seeds for the one that are resistant to armyworm.”
He added that why science develops biological control, there is need to tackle issues relating to pesticides as regards to safety and adulterated issues.