Armyworms threaten crop yields


EMERGENCE of agricultural crop pests and diseases causes socio-economic implications in the country. Farmers have for long suffered losses due to different disasters such as floods, drought, pests and diseases.

Hassan Tinkaligaire (42), a smallholder farmer at Kyebitembe village, in Muleba District is worried. Last season he pocketed over 6m/- from selling produce from his four-hectare maize farm.

Also, he provides for his family and pays schools fees for his three children, and supports other eight needy children with school fees and other necessities.

However, almost three quarters of the crop has been destroyed by the invasion of the Fall Army Worm (FAW) Kagera Region is a major producer with average of 2,508,180 tonnes of food crops, which is about 33.9 per cent of the total food produced in the Lake Zone region.

During 2005 the region produced an average of 268,200 tonnes of maize. Experts have warned that Africa will face major food shortages after this attack and will also struggle to contain the threat posed by these army worms since there is no known effective control measures.

Adam Swai is an Economist at the Kagera Regional Secretariat. He elaborated that although the fall army-worm is a new pest, emergency measures have been put in place to avert severe effects on crop and livestock productivity.

Research is ongoing to establish long term effective and robust control measures for the pest. Farmers, Extension Staff and the general public are requested to promptly report any outbreaks to the District Agricultural Officers (DAOs), Department of Crop Protection and National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) for guidance on the interim measures of managing the pest.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries Mathew Mtigumwe said that the government was aware of the presence of new species of army worms in Nkasi District, Rukwa Region.

The ministry’s study shows that the army worms that have stormed Nkasi district are new species known as Fall Army Worms that hit maize crops.

We have been forced to procure new pesticides after we noticed that the present army worms are new species which cannot be controlled by the available pesticides adding that the government had bought pesticides of about 15,000 liters worth 132,439 US dollars to curb the army worms.

According to him, the government is currently embarking on various initiatives to control the situation in various regions including Katavi, Mbeya and Songwe.

The Deputy Minister for Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries, William Ole Nasha, said the ministry had deployed agricultural experts in 12 regions most hit by the destructive army-worms and at least seventy percent is under control.

According to the minister, nearly 30 percent of the country had been affected after the worms destroyed hundreds of acres of maize crops in the country’s food basket, with most farmers complaining of incurring huge costs to contain them.

Army-worms said to have entered Tanzania from neighboring Zambia have destroyed hundreds of hectares of maize planted this year in the country’s western region of Rukwa.

Nkasi District is the highly affected area whose population depends on maize for food and cash. Authorities in the affected area warned that unless the worm invasion in the area was contained, it would spread to other parts of the country.

The worms’ invasion poses serious food security concerns in the area and the country at large taking into account that Rukwa is one of the regions which are the bread basket of the East African nation.

“We noticed recently that some worms were eating up the leaves of our maize plants. So we told our colleagues that if we don’t spray our farms then we cannot harvest anything. We have sprayed our farms five times already but the worms keep coming back,” said John Pangameza, one of the smallholder farmers in Nkasi District.

He said that many farmers in the area are almost giving up on the fight against the worms. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the presence of Fall Army Worm in Africa was first reported on the Island nation of Sao Tome and Principe in January 2016 and spread to Nigeria and Ghana before hitting South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique.

The latest outbreak of the Fall Army Worm, known by its scientific name Spodoptera frugiperda, an invasive pest was first reported in West Africa in January 2016.

Between December 2016 and March 2017, the pest was reported in several countries in Southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia), Central Africa (DR Congo) and Eastern Africa (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda).

As a result of the climate change and climate variability, Uganda is experiencing outbreak of new pests and diseases. This will negatively impact the nation’s food and nutrition security and wealth creation efforts.

The pest is known to feed on more than 80 plant species, including cereals (maize, millet, sorghum, sugarcane, rice and wheat), legumes (cowpea, groundnuts and soybean), cotton and many pasture grasses (Rhodes grass, Kikuyu grass, Lucerne and other pasture grasses) that are the source of cattle feed in the country.

The destructive stage of the pest is the caterpillar. It can be identified by its inverted Y mark on the front of the head and four large spots towards the end of the abdomen.

The caterpillar feeds aggressively on most parts of the plant including the leaves, stems, maize cobs and tassels except the roots. The symptoms of damage include leaf perforation, defoliation, perforated cobs and damaged grains.

This feeding damage results in a reduction in both yield and grain quality.

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