UN food organisation tackles Fall Armyworm infestation in Africa

Only 10 out of the 54 African states and territories have not reported infestations of Fall Armyworm.

Last week saw the launch by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of a new guide on pest management of Fall Armyworm (FAW) for maize in Africa.

The organisation also announced that plans were under way to launch an FAW Monitoring and Early Warning System app in Madagascar, Zambia and South Africa and then gradually roll it out across the continent.

According to FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for Africa, Bukar Tijani, the guide will help smallholder farmers and frontline agricultural staff to manage FAW more effectively in an integrated, ecological and sustainable way.

“As FAW is new to Africa, farmers’ and crop protection and extension workers’ good understanding of the pest’s behaviour and management practices is crucial in effectively managing it without damaging human health and the environment,” he said.

The app – once launched – would also enable farmers to send vital information about their crops’ health, helping to generate detailed and reliable knowledge on FAW infestation levels, adult population levels and the outcomes of actions taken against FAW.

“We know that farmer education and community action are critical in best managing FAW and curbing its spread as much as possible,” said FAO deputy director-general Maria Helena Semedo.

The guide is based on a learning-by-doing approach and provides support for the correct identification of FAW.

“The guide builds on the experiences of farmers and researchers from the Americas who have been dealing with the pest for centuries as well as on new technology and lessons learnt so far in Africa,” Semedo added.

It states that information and recommendations regarding the role of pesticides in FAW management are urgently needed at a national policy level and warns that insecticide applications would be costly and may not work due to poor application techniques or low-quality pesticides.

Additionally, the guide points out that older pesticides – recognised as hazardous and banned in industrialised countries – are still readily available and widely used in Africa which puts farmers’ health and environments at risk. Their use could also result in pesticide residue levels that could adversely affect the marketability of crops in both domestic and export markets.

The FAO has already been rolling out the Training of Trainers programme – which teaches how to manage FAW for frontline crop protection – in countries most affected by FAW.

“With this guide, FAO will begin a continent-wide programme of training master trainers to initiate an All-Africa Programme of Farmer Field Schools for the sustainable management of FAW,” added FAO principal technical coordinator on FAW, Allan Hruska. “Over the next five years, FAO and partners aim to reach 10 million farmers through 40 000 farmer field schools across Africa.”

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