With Omar Bah
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, recently concluded 6 days of sensitization, on the fall army worms, FAW, which is a new pest in Africa and is trans-boundary in the provincial Gambia.
The team of experts drawn from the Plant Protection, FAO and NARI led by the DG department of agriculture toured the length and breadth of the country to sensitise local farmers on the devastating effects of the pest which causes damage to maize, rice, sorghum, millet and pastures and other crops.
The tour was organised and bankrolled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), The Gambia office.
Addressing group of farmers at Fass Njaga Choi, the principal research officer, National Agriculture Research Institute, NARI, Faye Manneh said the pest was first observed in The Gambia in Kembujeh, Radville farm and Bakau Women’s garden with a significant damage of 60% observed on maize crop.
He reminded the farmers that the pest can be control by avoiding late planting, staggered plantings (plots of different ages), increase plant diversity- intercrop maize with cassava or yam.
“The way you can properly control the pest is to check your crops at least once a week for signs of the fall armyworms, look for fall armyworm egg masses and caterpillars and destroy them,” he told the farmers.
Dr Ceesay also called on the farmers to avoid using synthetic pesticides, saying some are very toxic to humans and they do not kill fall armyworm, “If you notice them just consult your nearest agricultural officer for recommendation of pesticides and their rate of application.”
He said: “The fall armyworm can be recognised by its outer wings of moths whitish patches at the lower outer edges arrowed) while their inner wings are white with dark trimmings, the egg masses are cream, grey or whitish with fall felt-like covering, the caterpillar has a dark head with an upside down pale Y-shaped marking on the front (Blue circle), each of the body segment has a pattern of four raised spots and its skin looks rough but is smooth to the touch.”
He added that the adult moth is able to move over 100 km per night and over 2,000 km during its life cycle and it lays its eggs on plants, from which a larva hatches and begins to feed on plant tissues.
Ceesay said although NARI will continue to investigate about the armyworm and the modalities that can be use to control its devastation, “It is also crucial for farmers to do their part in their own ways.”
Mustapha Cessay, a representative of FAO said the pest was first detected in central and western Africa in early 2016, and that it is expected to spread further; that the pest is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas.
Mr. Ceesay indicated that a high infestation of the pest can lead to significant yield loss as recently experienced in Ghana, Kenya and southern Africa; that control measures are so far not very effective, or at high cost, when available.
“Although it is too early to know the long-term impact of the Fall Army Worm on agricultural production and food security, indications are that it has the potential to cause serious damage to crops, cause significant yield losses and threaten national household food and nutrition security,” Ceesay pointed out to local farmers in Fass Njaga Choi.
He called those who are opportune to participate to extend the message to other farmers in their surroundings.
He said FAO will continue to support the Government, Ministry of Agriculture and farmers to effectively and sustainably manage the Fall Armyworm which threatens national food and nutrition security in The Gambia.
He reassured the farmers that FAO is committed to provide support in the area of plant pest and disease control, as well as in interventions that assist Government and the people of The Gambia, attain household and national food and nutrition security, eradicate poverty and attain development goals that will sustainably improve the lives of people.
Alhagie Gaye, a plant protection technician said the pest is devastating in its level of destruction and there is need to enlighten people on how dangerous it is. He urged the farmers to spread the massage so that the people who are not present will be aware especially those who specialize on maize.
Gaye said it is unclear how it reached Africa from the Americas, “But it likely arrived on imported plants. The impact of the fall armyworm on maize is likely to be devastating because it eats the leaves of the plant as well as its reproductive parts. This damages or destroys the maize cob itself.”
Mr Gaye also made categorically clear that there are non-chemical, biological pesticides that could also be effective in fighting the armyworm. “Research is needed to work out which chemical is the best to control the strain of Fall armyworm,” he stressed.
Speaking in one of the functions in Karantaba, the Director General of the Department of Agriculture Sariyang Jobarteh, said the pest can be one of the most difficult insect pest to control in the field; that late planted fields and late maturing hybrids are more likely to become infected.
That, he said, warranted the Ministry of Agriculture together with FAO, to constitute a multi-disciplinary team which offers hope that the Gambia can effectively give the pest a knockout blow and protect food crops.
The insect pest, he said, can inflict heavy damage on crops within a short time if it is not stopped.
Jobarteh said the intensive awareness raising campaign through provincial meetings is part of government and FAO strategic plans to educate the farmers on how best they limit the damage inflicted by the worm.
Farmers’ views in Fass Njaga Choi
Fatou Sonko, a resident of Fass Njaga Choi thanked FAO for reaching out to the farmers at the right time. She reassured the sensitisation team that they would do all they can to ensure that they use all the modalities needed to control the pest.
The Fass Njaga Choi village Alkalo, Alhagie Wally Joof, said the knowledge they gathered from the sensitisation will significantly help them fight the pest in the coming raining season. “I must also say that it is important for farmers to be given the required skills and knowledge on how to handle such circumstances.”
The Fass Njaga Choi VDC chairman, Basirou Choi, said it is important to sensitise farmers on issues especially that which threatens their farm productions, “But the reality is, farmers need support to be able to do things at the right time.”
Musa Ceesay of Ndembalan said he noticed the pest in his farm last year but he has no idea of the devastation that it may cause. He stressed that the knowledge he gathered from the sensitisation will help prepare for the next rainy season and the possible reappearance of the pest.
The former Kaur areal council chairman, Hamat Mbye complained about the lack of enough agric extension workers in some of the regions. He said until that change, it would be very difficult for farmers to adequately prepare themselves to able to fight such pesticides. He also recommended village trainings for farmers.
The village Alkalo of Njau, Sainey Ceesay and the VDC chairman, Aliman Ceesay all welcome the sensitisation team and reassured them of their unflinching support towards disseminating the message to other farmers across the district.
Demba Kunda Village
The Village Alkalo, Marie Jagana said the sensitisation was both important and timely for the farmers to have better understanding of the pest ahead of the rainy season.
Meanwhile, the team of experts also visited other villages in NBR, CRR-North, URR, CRR- South, LRR and WCR to disseminate the same information.
What are armyworms?
Armyworms are the caterpillar stage of moths belonging mainly to the genus Spodoptera. They are called armyworms because when they have ravaged a crop they march along the ground like a vast army of worms in search of more food. There are at least eight countries in southern Africa that have been hit by outbreaks of armyworms.
This sequence of outbreaks began in mid-December 2016 in Zambia and has spread rapidly ever since. It is now as far south as South Africa. Because armyworms feed on many of the staple food crops they have the potential to create food shortages in the region.
The recent outbreaks in southern Africa appear to be a combination of the native African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) and a new invasive species called the Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). This new species is endemic to tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America, where it causes considerable damage to maize and other crops.