The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, recently sensitized members of the National Assembly, journalists and farmers, on the Fall Army worms (FAW), which is a new pest in Africa.
The pest is believed to be trans-boundary and it causes damage to maize, rice, sorghum, millet and pastures, and can also feed on other crops.
According to statistics, it feeds on 80 different crop species except for Cassava and seriously infests maize. It eats leaves, flowers and fruits of the plant and damages are serious on late planting and late maturing plants. Highly infested fields could have 100% losses.
It is estimated that FAW in Africa has the potential to cause maize yield losses in a range from 8.3 to 20.6 metric tonnes per annum. The value of losses is estimated at between US$ 2, 481 to US$6,187 million. It is expected to spread throughout suitable habitats in mainland Sub-Saharan Africa within the next few cropping seasons.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) confirmed to Gambia’s National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) the presence of the dreadful crop destructive pest in the country following the agricultural research institute’s discovery of its present in the country.
FAW (Spodoptera frugiperda) specie of caterpillars native to Americas is an alien pest that was observed in more than 20 African countries where it caused rancid destruction to food crops.
Delivering a statement at the training, the Director General of the Department of Agriculture Sariyang Jobarteh said the pest can be one of the most difficult pests to control in the field.
He said late planted fields and late maturing hybrids are more likely to become infected.
Mr Jobarteh said the Ministry of Agriculture together with FAO, constituted a multi-disciplinary teams which offers hope that the Gambia can effectively give the pest a knockout blow and protect food crops.
He said Government with support from FAO, is intensifying efforts to contain the pest within the country.
“The intensive awareness campaign will be held through provincial meetings and media. The Ministry of Agriculture and FAO will embark on a conducted awareness raising meetings at the provincial and district levels, educating local leaders, agronomist and farmers about the new pest, its negative impact and methods of control,” he said.
Amongst these, he adduced will be radio and television talk shows to sensitize the public about the new pest through public, private and community radios.
The representative of FAO Country Office Mustapha Ceesay said devastation caused by the Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) in west, east, central and Southern Africa during the last 12 months deserves the attention of Governments and the farming community.
He said the pest was first detected in central and western Africa in early 2016, and that it is expected to spread further.
The pest, he said is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and 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.
Mr. Ceesay indicated that a high infestation of the pest can lead to significant yield loss as currently experienced in Ghana, Kenya and southern Africa, he said 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,” he added.
He said the Fall Armyworm’s presence in Africa is not likely to be reversed and large-scale eradication efforts are neither appropriate nor feasible.
The FAO representative further adduced that it is important that they sensitize stakeholders in the agriculture for participants to extend the message to other farmers, researchers, extension staff, students, development partners and all other stakeholders at grass-roots and policy levels.
“It is important to quickly prepare a national contingency plan that will involve gathering information locally and drawing lessons from experiences and best practice in countries where the pest has been successfully controlled” he noted.
FAO, he said will continue to support the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture to effectively and sustainably manage the Fall Armyworm which threatens national food and nutrition security in The Gambia.
He reassured the gathering 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.
Hon. Omar Darboe a Member of the National Assembly Select Committee on Agriculture highlighted that the pest is devastating in its level of destruction and there is need to enlighten people on how dangerous it is.
He urged the gathering to spread the massage so that the people who are not present will be aware especially the farmers.
More on the armyworm
The African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta), also called okalombo, kommandowurm, or nutgrass armyworm, is a moth of the family Noctuidae.
The larvae often exhibit marching behavior when traveling to feeding sites, leading to the common name “armyworm”.
The caterpillars exhibit density-dependent polyphenism where larvae raised in isolation are green, while those raised in groups are black. These phases are termed solitaria and gregaria, respectively.
Gregaria caterpillars are considered very deleterious pests, capable of destroying entire crops in a matter of weeks.
The larvae feed on all types of grasses, early stages of cereal crops (e.g., corn, rice, wheat, millet, sorghum), sugarcane, and occasionally on coconut.
The solitaria caterpillars are less active and undergo much slower development. The species is commonly found in Africa, but can also be seen in Yemen, some Pacific islands, and parts of Australia.
African armyworm outbreaks tend to be devastating for farmland and pasture in these areas, with the highest-density outbreaks occurring during the rainy season after periods of prolonged drought.
During the long dry seasons (“off-season”), the population densities are very low and no outbreaks are seen.