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Farmers Trained to Contain Fall Army Worms Invasion

Farmers in the country had been grappling with the threat of Fall Armyworm (FAW) until the scientists in the agricultural sector developed the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to contain the invasive pest.

The FAW invasive pest posed a grave challenge to the economic, environmental and food security of the country by causing crop damage, financial losses and subsequently increased the over reliance on imports to bridge the domestic demand.

But thanks to the Government intervention measures which has seen farmers trained by relevant agricultural agencies on latest environmentally friendly techniques to manage and control the spread of the fall armyworm.

Through various measures under the IPM farmers can access information from the surveillance and monitoring data on the trends of the invasion after undergoing training on recommended pesticides.

The IPM concept is a holistic approach to that relies on a combination of various strategies to control pests, including biological, cultural, physical, and chemical methods and according to scientists, the new intervention is more sustainable and environmentally friendly compared to solely relying on chemical pesticides.

Dr. Muo Kasina, a pest specialist from the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) told KNA that the fall army worm has been a menace since 2017 when the first major invasion was reported in maize plantations.

“ The threat of  fall armyworm invasion has seen maize being grown with a lot of pesticides to avert attacks since without treating it can result to 100 percent crop failure”, he said

He cited in 2017 when a farmer lost his crop to the pest despite spraying various chemicals in vain before opting to cut the two months maize stalks to feed his animals which died after consuming the infected feeds in a tragic twist of events.  a

Dr.  Kasina said to address the food security challenge posed by the pest, stakeholders in agriculture in 2019 through a partnership with Government of South Korea in a initiative dubbed KAFACI in collaboration with Scientists from 14 African countries developed the IPM programme to contain the menace.

“ IPM  incorporates different skills for crop care, good health practices, and nutrition for the plant and also considers surveillance reports on invasion trends through scouting and monitoring the buildup of the pest spread to apply control measures”, he said.

Dr. Muo Kasina, a pest specialist from the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) explaining on some of the technologies such as traps they are using to train farmers on IPM

He explained the five year research that stretched from 2020 to December 2022 was piloted in Machakos where the test the programme of the IPM posted impressive results.

“The programme started with scouting, crop care, monitoring, and an increase in biological control. Although some biological control products against the pest could causes diseases in insects, it has no effect on humans when used early enough when infestations are less likely”, he said.

He expressed fears that preliminary findings indicated that the insect could easily develop resistance is the use of synthetic pesticides over a long period of time as they produce young ones that are resistant to that molecule.

Dr.  Kasina however stressed that biological control rarely develop resistance, and with other farm practices such as the use of pheromones and lures to attract and annihilate these insects.

He added that the insect don’t develop resistance because this is the natural molecule that is released by the females to attract the males. It is one of the most effective methods to manage insects.

The IPM, the expert said managing the pest and lowering the economic damage level means the damage caused by the insect does not affect farmers yield and through the training of the farmers, they have been able to appreciate and be able to live with the insect since they can be able to control.

“This insect is also food for other organisms such as snakes, lizards, and birds, so basically it has come into a food web that is already there and  the only thing we want to do is make it less competitive so that farmers can harvest enough yields at low costs”, Dr. Kasina said .

He said stakeholders were keen to ensure farmers get high yields and lower the cost of production through intelligent management of these pests by encouraging biological control measures and ultimately foresee a situation where the threat of invasion was neutralized and their population of the insects in the ecosystem is naturalized.

On the ongoing programme Dr Kasina revealed that at least sixty farmers were enlisted in the field training component in two groupings for the last two seasons to spread the knowledge on the new technologies.

He said the experts were also working with County governments so that they can easily spread the information.

“ We are also looking into working with other counties in the south eastern region and coastal region by 2024 and In these areas, we will be promoting farming, not through demonstrations but maybe through meetings, and empowering the staff to join the farming” he said.

He added that they also want to remove fear from farmers, increase knowledge and reduce costs on fall army warm management.

“If you reduce the cost of managing fall army warm, you reduce the cost of managing maize, you reduce the cost of production, and you increase production. In the end, you increase the amount of money in the farmer’s pocket, so maize becomes an economic crop, and we also want to contribute to food security. The government is very keen to feed people, and as you know, maize is a major food we consider in this country’ He said.

By the end of this project, Dr. Kasina said they want to have empowered farmers to be able to fully manage their harvest with minimal costs.

Catherine Mutua , a maize farmer from Masii Ward in Mwala Sub County and a beneficiary of the training from KALRO said  farmer in her area have been planting maize and being bothered by the insects which majority of farmers had little information about.

“KALRO came in and now we know about the insect because initially we used traditional methods to pouring soil , Ash, pounded chilies on the insects  and even liquid soap to get rid of the menace but  it was not effective as our yields were becoming less and less due to the ‘kiiuunyu” (FAW) “, she said .

Mutua a member of the Mumo wa King’atuani farmers group said they initially applies chemical sprays to fight the worms oblivious of the damage they inflicting on the environment before they were trained.

“As a group, we are grateful for the training. We now know how and when to contain the best but we urge the government to reach out to more farmers to avert losses and lower the costs of farm inputs especially the pesticides, ”Mutua said.

Josephat Kiilu, a retiree from Masii who ventured into maize farming said it is important for farmers to closely monitor their crops to be able to identify the extent of damage caused by the insects, treat them in areas affected with the appropriate methods and be able to even salvage those that have not been affected and this will promote healthy growth in the remaining parts of the plant

“Implementing preventive measures such as using insect-resistant crops or employing natural predators can help mitigate future insect attacks and ensure the overall health of the plants”, Kiilu said .

Muthui Mutisya, the Ward agricultural officer in  Masii ward said Maize is a staple crop for the farmers in the area and if one does not plant maize it is deemed he or she has no food.

“Farmers insist on planting maize in their farms though the holdings in the farms are a bit small as we have within the range of 2 to 2.5 acres per household. When the rainfall is enough farmers get up to 15 bags per acre but with the climate change and erratic rains experienced of between 300-600 millimeters per year it’s not good and compounding the situation now is the FAW menace”, he said

The invasion of the fall armyworm, Mutisya explained has seen farmers getting a paltry 5 bags of maize per acre due to its infestation as the cost of chemical from the agro vet were beyond their means.

He explained that although the County government has been giving farmers free chemicals to control the worm, it is not an activity that is very sustainable thus the entry of KALRO with the IPM was cost effective.

“Farmers can get biological pesticides at agro vets if they can be made availed and will have a great impact in the right step in managing the FAW. Am happy that the farmer groups in this area learned on the technology”, Mutisya said.

The extension officer called upon the farmers especially within Masii to embrace the technologies and spread the concept by engage colleagues on more training and demos on how to control of FAW.

The fall armyworm infestation has had a significant impact on Kenya’s agricultural sector, affecting staple crops such as maize, wheat, sorghum, and millet. Its outbreak since 2017 has led to substantial in affected regions, resulting in reduced yields and potential food insecurity for farmers and communities.

Masii is one of the areas in the country that has the best climate for maize. By the end of the project. Falling temperatures in 2017 forced Kenya to import food and resulted in significant food loss. In 2017 the pest had attacked more than 250,000 hectares of agricultural land, accounting for 11 per cent of the country’s maize crop, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

By  Wangari Ndirangu

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