The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has asked farmers to use government approved pesticides to combat the new Fall Armyworm invasion.
The KALRO Director of Crops, Zachary Kinyua said the government through the Poisons and Pest Control Board (PPCB) has so far approved and registered five pesticides for local use by farmers.
“Last year, we did not have officially registered pesticides but now we have and we are also working on widening the spectrum on pesticides available to farmers,” he said.
One of the advantages he noted that when it comes to pesticide, the driver is the private sector and thus the farmers are getting the new pesticides as recommended.
Dr. Kinyua who was speaking on Wednesday during the First Fall Army Worm (FAW) conference in Nairobi said new technologies have also been tested such as the use of philomon traps a bio- pesticide for early warning signs.
“Scientists are also investigating the warms natural enemies within the country and there are promising results that we have some fungi that are attacking the FAW and can be formulated into bio pesticides,” he added.
The Director explained that they were carrying out research on management of environment such as working on intercropping to find out if fall wormy worm would affect maize less if it was intercropped with the legumes.
Apart from maize, he noted other hosts being attacked by FAW is sorghum and they are encouraging farmers to engage in scouting and surveillance.
He explained that the figure incurred because of FAW last year was 20 percent but towards the end of last year that actual loss was less than five percent.
“This year might be higher because of delayed rains and therefore there was scattered planting. Late planting of maize predisposes it to heavier attack by FAW,” he said.
Representing the Chief Administrative Secretary, Andrew, Tuimur, Director in charge of knowledge management in the State Department of Agriculture Research, Dr. Margaret Makelo said FAW is spreading fast because of alternative hosts and there is need for a multi institutional approach to tackle it from all angles or else it will not be manageable.
“We are looking at the policy options and strategies needed to manage the disease, and since it was identified in Mexico, we are using what they have done and also homegrown strategies to manage the disease,” she said.
She said the meeting will provide some of the options to include in the strategies through scientific information on what has been done so far and also what will be done going forward and further come up with decisions to be taken to ensure the pest is eradicated to minimum levels.
“The management of pests is expensive and we have been managing using pesticides, we now want action plan that will reduce on production costs especially related to FAW.
Dr. Stephen Mugo from Internal Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) said FAW has caused damage to over 40 percent of maize that should be harvested.
This is an invasive pest and native in Africa. We cannot control FAW by only using one method and currently we also know it is not only affecting maize but can attack more than 80 species,” Dr. Mugo said.
He said currently, CIMMYT has initiated breeding research looking for maize that could resist insect pests by using native genes that were already in the plant.
“We are making progress and have some maize here that on a scale to 1 to 9 we will be able to get 3 or 4 which farmers can use as we await for the ones that are immune to FAW” said Dr Mugo.
Within early next year, they will go for national performance testing and if regulators depending on a country want to fast track, the maize breed could be available by 2020.
Dr. Mugo also supported use of intercropping as a method to tame the FAW noting that in order to discourage the pest, early planting and intercropping is able to disturb the FAW from one plant to another.
He noted pesticides unfortunately were the easiest for government to purchase, were fast to tame the FAW but noted that there is danger of using the wrong insecticide which could affect the non-target organisms to control FAW and one ends up killing something else.
“If a farmer has to use pesticides, use it if only the value of crop you are saving is more than pesticide you are using, and it is also preferable to use botanical-based bio-pesticide and not synthetic.
Dr. Mugo said good education is thus required on the part of the farmer on how to apply the insecticide since spraying for FAW is unique and not like any other.
The government has been grappling with the FAW invasion since March 2017, and this has continued to pose a great threat to food security and livelihoods in the country and Africa region.
To date, the pest occurrence has been confirmed in 43 out of the 47 counties with a yield loss estimated to be 1.05 million 90kg bags with a value of Sh.3.15 billion.
By Wangari Ndirangu