Armyworms eat maize leaves. FILE PHOTO/AP

Collaborative Efforts Sought to Curb Armyworm March in East Africa

ADDIS ABABA – East African nations were advised to step up their collaboration to curb a serious threat posed by the African Armyworm.

Countries in the subregion came out from the worst Desert Locust invasion that threatened farmers’ livelihoods just recently.

They are again facing the dangers of the African Armyworm, an insect pest that typically emerges during rainy seasons following prolonged drought periods.

“No single country can manage this pest alone,” Carla Mucavi, FAO Representative in Kenya, said while launching an ‘Emergency Support to Manage Outbreaks and Infestation’ project Thursday.

The African Armyworm has the capacity to destroy up to 100 percent of staple foods if left uncontrolled.

“We need to join hands to defeat this pest, so as to prevent major crop losses that endanger the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers,” Mucavi said.

“Thus, I call upon governments and partners to put on more resources to catalyze and enhance the fight against this worrisome pest.”

The pest poses a severe threat to cereal crops considered essential staples in the region, including maize, millet, sorghum, rice, wheat, teff and barley, sugarcane seedlings, and pasture grasses.

Any losses incurred due to infestations could result in grave risk to regional food security, experts say.

Xia Jingyuan, FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division Director, has called the Africa Armyworm a serious threat to food security, necessitating urgent intervention.

“The pest is reproducing itself up to 13 generations in a single year, with a huge potential of major outbreaks,” Jingyuan said.

“Recognizing this challenge, FAO is employing its expertise to protect the livelihoods of smallholders through robust monitoring and management of the pest.”

FAO’s newly launched project plans to extend support to manage outbreaks and infestation in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda.

By establishing 2400 monitoring sites, with 400 sites in each country, the UN agency says the project provides training to over 1350 people in monitoring, early warning, and effective management techniques for African Armyworm.

The project emphasizes the use of a Community-Based Armyworm Monitoring and Forecasting (CBAMF) system, which was started in Tanzania in 2000, with subsequent rollouts in Ethiopia and Kenya. The UN agency says the system has demonstrated promising results, particularly in high-risk villages.

In Kenya alone, 173,000 hectares of land were protected from the transboundary pest through ground spraying so far, says Kello Harsama of the nation’s Agriculture ministry.

“However,” Harsama said, “effective and lasting protection can be achieved through regional collaborative efforts.”

In 2022, five out of the nine countries in the subregion were affected by outbreaks of the African Armyworm.