SADC agriculture experts have called for urgent financial support to governments to ensure effective management of the fall armyworm in Southern Africa. This came out at the recent stakeholder meeting held in South Africa.
Fall armyworm is a new pest in Southern Africa, which causes extensive damage to crops if not controlled in time. The pest has 10 to 12 cycles and can continue recurring after the first spray. The meeting, which called for increased investment and stronger coordination and partnerships in responding to the pest, was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Representatives of SADC member states, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), donors, development partners, farmers’ organisations, academia and research organisations observed that since the fall armyworm had established itself on the continent and in the region, there was no other option than to manage it effectively and sustainably.
SADC member states and stakeholders were challenged to make strong commitments by allocating more funding, developing programmes and putting in place infrastructure for the management of the fall armyworm and other emerging and re-emerging crop pests and diseases with potential to cause food insecurity in the region.
FAO sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa Mr David Phiri said given its adaptability and tenacious nature, many experts believed the pest would continue spreading and impacting on food security.
Grain SA has strongly advised local wheat farmers to be on the lookout for fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) after unconfirmed reports were received of the pest being found in wheat production areas in Zimbabwe.
In a statement, the association urged farmers to conduct regular checks of their lands.
Dr Marinda Visser (Grain SA Manager of Research), Jan Hendrik Venter (manager of early warning systems at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries), and other role players are due to meet at a FAW steering committee meeting today, July 19.
Visser told Farmer’s Weekly that they hoped to receive further clarity on the reports later in the week.
According to Grain SA, summer grain producers across the country had reported damage as a result of the new pest. However, with winter temperatures and reduced production in these areas, pest activity had slowed down significantly.
Visser could not comment on whether colder areas would be safe from the pest, saying they would be able to provide further information in due course.
South Sudan recently declared a fall armyworm outbreak in its Equatoria region.
The Sudan Tribune reported on its website (sudantribune.com) that the pest had been detected in Magwi, Yei and Juba, Northern Bahr el Gazal, and parts of Jonglei.
Microscopic soil organisms could be an environmentally friendly way to control crop pests and diseases and even protect agriculture against the impacts of climate change, a leading researcher says.
Africa is battling an outbreak of trans-boundary pests and diseases like the invasive South America fall armyworm (FAW), tomato leaf miner and the TR4 which have cost the agriculture sector millions of dollars in crop damage.
“Research from our labs at Auburn University has shown a great potential in microbes for helping fight pests- and we have done some research on fall army worm that are pests in turf grass,” said Dr. Esther Ngumbi, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at the Auburn University in Alabama, United States.
Ngumbi’s research has looked at how beneficial soil microbes help recruit natural enemies.
Microbes are tiny organisms like bacteria and fungi that interact with the soil and plants. Though not widely appreciated in much of Africa, Ngumbi said microbial formulations have been found to improve plant growth and protect crops from insects, drought and other climate-related extremes.
Researchers also say microbes can help preserve the environment threatened by growing reliance on chemical solutions in fighting crop and livestock trans-boundary pests and diseases. Pesticides pose a threat to food safety, human and ecological health, necessitating the promotion of non-chemical alternatives to handling pests.
Six provinces have confirmed that armyworms are beginning to wreak havoc among their agricultural sector. The crop-eating pests have recently spread to South Africa from some of the neighbouring countries.
A delegation from the Department of Agriculture led by Minister Senzeni Zokwana briefed Parliament’s Oversight Committee on their plans to combat the spread of the fall armyworm.
The destructive fall armyworm is a new phenomenon to South African farmers. It targets crops such as maize, sorghum, cotton, soybean and sugar cane as hosts and because it is new, no pesticide has been registered to use against it.
The Department’s Director responsible for Plant Health, Jan Hendrik Venter, says they have now managed to register nine active ingredients.
“We are proud to say we have registered nine active ingredients. We must also note a huge backlog because of all the farmers that will need it from the manufacturers.”
He says six provinces have now confirmed the prevalence of the worm.
“It has been confirmed in Limpopo, Musina; also Gauteng the north and eastern parts; in North West, Rustenburg; Mpumalanga in Schoemanskloof, Hendrina, and Middelburg; Free State in Petrus Steyn, and Northern Cape in Douglas.”
Minister Senzeni Zokwana says he will meet with Treasury soon, to request for additional funding to combat the spread of the armyworm
The department says it could cost up to R1000 per hectare to apply the pesticide.
However, the Acting Deputy Director, Mooketsa Ramasodi, says it is still unclear how the pest will affect food prices.
“We still have to see the extent, because you have the impact on your operations and it will reflect in your costs that are there, but the extent of that still needs to be determined.”